At the beginning of 2020, “normal” meant workers could go into the office to work and were allowed to mingle with coworkers, individuals could travel to see friends or family, and neighbors could smile in public and receive a smile in return.
On March 13, 2020, in a message to the entire Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR), NAVWAR Commander Rear Adm. C. D. Becker and Executive Director Pat Sullivan reiterated the Navy’s cancellation of all non-mission essential travel and directive for telework eligible personnel to prepare to work from home.
This triggered closure of any space not designated as mission essential, including a production line in Port Hueneme, Calif. “When our customers shut down, we shut down,” says Trey Wasilchuk, the NAVWAR Expeditionary support office project manager, site lead and Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific (NIWC Pacific) embed to the Shore and Expeditionary Integration Program Office (PMW 790). “Everybody thought this was going to be a 30-day shut down.”
The production line provides services such as radio maintenance, tactical vehicle integration and installation, as well as shipping and receiving for the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) and other support to fleet customers. In terms for the warfighter: the production line modernizes and upgrades all the communication equipment in the vehicles so the Marines and Sailors of expeditionary forces are able to communicate during operations.
When Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) leadership directed to close the base, it meant the production line located on the installation would also remain closed until NBVC reopened.
“We were ahead of schedule before but, as the shutdown continued, it started to impact our production schedule. This is when remaining in full telework mode became unsustainable for us. I realized we needed to get back to work,” he said.
Wasilchuk was aware that services provided by the NAVWAR Expeditionary support office production line ensures readiness for the fleet against outside threats. Entrusted with responsibility of the production line by PMW 790, one of 11 program offices under a tenant unit assigned to NAVWAR HQ, the project managers of the production line initiated research to reopen in support of the warfighter, but there would be hurdles to overcome.
“We couldn’t just go back to work because we needed a mission essential designator which we didn’t have.”
First, he would need to find a senior officer with the rank of O6 or above from one of their customers to support pursuit of the mission-essential designator. Wasilchuk explains support from a Navy captain was an easy piece of the puzzle, “the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command is our biggest customers and agreed our work was required so we had no problem meeting that prerequisite.”
The designation would also require approval from Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence (PEO C4I) and Space Systems and NIWC Pacific’s senior executive service civilians, or executive directors.
Wasilchuk then worked with his counterpart and project management assistant, Debby Teresa, also a NIWC Pacific embed to PMW 790, to review guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NORTHCOM, NBVC, NAVWAR and NIWC Pacific to consolidate guidance into a single standard operating procedures (SOP) document.
Teresa states short-term telework isn’t an issue but long-term telework would create severe impact to their mission. “Thirty days at home is excessive for a production line when you take into account that all of our production line processes require us to work in our physical location,” says Teresa. “It was a mutual decision between Trey and I to provide a solution for leadership to review. Our main work cannot be done from the house.”
Jim Goettelmann, program management division head, said their detailed SOP for COVID-19 operations and Wasilchuk’s brief to leadership across commands instilled confidence the production line could reopen safely.
“No second questions came back from leadership regarding reopening the line for vehicle integration,” says Goettelmann. “Trey did all the legwork on coordinating bringing it back up.”
“I ran the standard operation procedures, or SOPs, by three executive directors from three unique chains of command in order to receive approval to reopen the production line” states Wasilchuk.
Though the production line may be operating at a lower capacity than before to follow social distancing guidance, Teresa says they had to do something. “We needed to find a way for people to work safely and continue production. It had to be done.”
Wasilchuk elaborated on Teresa’s point, “We support the warfighter. The whole world doesn’t stop and neither would the enemy. We have to make sure the servicemember is still taken care of.”
Jon Castro, program management division branch head and Wasilchuk and Teresa’s first line supervisor, says there are two factors driving reopening of the facility.
“It’s a mission essential activity in support of NECC and their subordinate commands to maintain fleet readiness. Secondly – yes, we are in this COVID-19 situation, and you still have work that needs to be accomplished. How are you going to go about doing that safely?”
When developing the SOP, Wasilchuk and Teresa took into account several factors to mitigate any spread of the COVID-19 virus in their work center such as how much cleaning would be required, what shifts could be incorporated, requiring face coverings as well as temperature checks.
“Even though temperature checks are not required, a few of our contractors have a significant commute so they could develop a temperature during their commute,” explains Wasilchuk. He also shared that the production line employees appreciate the temperature check at the door and have had no complaints from any of the staff regarding the “new normal” to protect each other and their families at home.
The SOP developed by the NIWC Pacific embeds to NAVWAR Expeditionary support office and Port Hueneme production line helped create a standardized SOP for others to start from should they also need to develop a COVID-19 mitigation strategy to continue or return to the office or lab environment. Navy, NBVC, and other NAVWAR programs have reached out to Wasilchuk to inquire what it took to reopen the production lines and for a copy of the SOP.
Castro says he credits Wasilchuk and Teresa with setting a standard with the SOP. “I believe that’s the reason why folks have gone to him to see what they did. Credit to them for coming up with a mitigation strategy that gives confidence not only to leadership but the workers themselves that they can reopen the facility safely.”
Workforces across the world are working from home if able – while some Americans are not allowed to work and rely on government stipends to offset their loss of income. Work travel is limited to mission essential for Department of Defense personnel and if an employee does travel, even on their own time, their movement may be restricted upon their return to protect the workforce. If someone smiles at someone at the store, they won’t see it under the face covering so they may relay a social-distanced friendly wave to communicate non-verbally.
There is a new “normal” today. However, NIWC Pacific personnel like Trey Wasilhcuk and Debby Teresa show what it means to “stay on course” by proactively providing a solution to safely continue – or in this case return to the mission – to support the warfighter.
Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific