A 2003 Booker T. Washington High School graduate and Miami native is serving aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer that, while more than 600 feet long, looks as small as a fishing boat to enemy radar.
Petty Officer First Class Ollie Betancourt is a gas turbine system technician and mechanic aboard the Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer, USS Zumwalt, currently under construction at a shipyard in Bath, ME.
A Navy gas turbine system technician and mechanic is responsible for maintaining the ship’s gas turbine engines.
“Without the turbines, the ship has no power at all,” Betancourt said. “The turbines are the power generators of the whole ship so without us, the ship will not function.”
For the first time in 25 years, there is true competition for control of the seas, Navy officials assert. Zumwalt has been designed to combat the threats of today as well as those of coming decades.
Looking more like a spaceship than a surface ship, Zumwalt has a unique wave-piercing inverted bow that increases speed and stability by cutting through the water. The ship was built with an innovative design that dramatically reduces its radar signature, giving it the advantage of stealth, something generally associated with military aircraft, and not with Navy destroyers.
As the lead ship of its class, which will ultimately include three ships, Zumwalt has advanced technologies in every area including energy efficiency, main engines, weapons systems, shipboard electronics and sensors. When at sea, the ship will perform a variety of missions including attacking targets on land — it carries cruise missiles and features two advanced gun systems capable of firing long-range projectiles more than 70 miles — hunting and tracking submarines, airspace surveillance and providing support to special operations forces such as U.S. Navy SEALS.
“The sophisticated new technology incorporated aboard this ship, combined with its multi-mission capabilities, will ensure it is a relevant and integral part of our battle force for years to come,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said prior to the ship’s christening ceremony.
That the innovative new ship — indeed, the entire class of ships — is named for Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt Jr., is no coincidence, the Navy says. Zumwalt was the Navy’s youngest Chief of Naval Operations and one of the most influential sailors of the 20th Century, radically changing the face of the Navy as both a surface warrior and a social reformer.
During World War II, he earned a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. After the war, Zumwalt served at a variety of commands, honing his expertise in surface warfare, including Commander of Naval Forces Vietnam, where he revolutionized the use of riverine forces.
As Chief of Naval Operations, Zumwalt was legendary for his Z-Grams, personal messages and directives sent directly to sailors. Z-Grams ushered in many monumental changes in the fleet, such as benefits for minorities and women, relaxed grooming standards, and better quality of life for the average sailor. Z-66 promoted equal opportunity in the Navy, pushing the Navy forward in a racially divided military.
USS Zumwalt is the first U.S. Navy ship built with an innovative integrated power system, which provides power to virtually all ship’s needs, including the main engines, electrical and combat systems and other onboard equipment, according to Navy officials. This allows for significant energy savings and ensures that the ship can be outfitted in the future with high-energy weapons and sensors as they are developed.
“The USS Zumwalt is the most technologically advanced ship in the Navy and the sailors selected for duty are our nation’s finest,” said Capt. James A. Kirk, Zumwalt’s commanding officer. “Just as Admiral Zumwalt helped shape our nation’s Navy as Chief of Naval Operations, this ship will lead change in the future surface Navy.”
With a crew of more than 150 sailors, jobs are highly specialized and keep each part of the destroyer running smoothly, according to Navy officials. The jobs range from caring for fellow crew members to maintaining engines and handling weaponry.
“Commissioning a new class of ship in the Navy is a very unique opportunity and we all take teamwork seriously and work well together to get our mission accomplished with pride,” Betancourt said.
While the ship is undergoing construction, many sailors use this opportunity to improve upon their own personal and professional goals. The crews are highly motivated, and quickly adapt to challenging conditions. It is a busy life of specialized work, watches and drills.
“I’m the only one in my family to join the military. Being a female in the Navy is a big culture change for my family and it gives me a way to bring honor to my mom, my son, and the rest of my family,” Betancourt said.