Stennis Sailor ASAA Felicia Blumenfeld applies edge sealer over reflective tape on a hydraulic aircraft jack at Naval Station Everett’s Equipment Rework Facility as part of equipment overhaul work performed by Stennis’ 48-person GSE team. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dmitry Chepusov/Released)

Story and photos by
MC2 Dmitry Chepusov

Stennis Sailors assigned to overhaul ground support equipment (GSE) at Naval Station Everett’s Equipment Rework Facility have been working ten hours per day to sandblast, paint and assemble aircraft slings, weapons skids and aircraft maintenance platforms since early June.

Before Stennis entered its planned incremental availability (PIA), all GSE was preserved for storage or transportation. Once selected pieces were transferred to Everett, the equipment was disassembled for sandblasting and painting. Currently, the equipment is being carefully assembled, and planned maintenance is being performed on all the gear, then everything is preserved for transportation back to Stennis.

Thirteen aviation ordnancemen brought 600 pieces of ordnance-moving equipment to Everett in April. They finished overhauling what they brought within three months, so they brought an additional 800 pieces from Stennis in July. The AOs overhaul between 40 and 50 pieces of ordnance-moving equipment per week, said Chief Aviation Ordnanceman (AW) Don Weatherby.

“We will have a total of seventeen hundred pieces done out of Stennis’ twenty-five hundred pieces by the end of PIA,” said Weatherby, who is Stennis’ weapons department’s G-1 flight deck chief, and is leading chief petty officer for the Everett team. “It’s unprecedented to have this much gear redone during PIA. Most ships will do 50 percent, but we identified more gear that needed overhaul, so we can have more capability during the upcoming deployment.”

Thirty-four aviation support equipment technicians are performing just as well as the AOs, said Chief Aviation Support Equipment Technician (AW/SW) Matt Gayle.

“We’ve got about fourteen hundred pieces of support equipment, tow tractors, spotting dollies, tow bars, aircraft slings, nitrogen servicing units, aircraft start units and maintenance platforms, and we’re already 75 percent done with all of it,” said Gayle. “I think ASs are unique, a very small community of Sailors. We stick together like a family, and this is what keeps us motivated to get this maintenance done.”

Aviation Support Equipment Technician 2nd Class (AW) Ray Clark said it’s worth the extra work to have the equivalent of factory-new equipment when Stennis deploys once again.

“It’s a sacrifice; I leave Bremerton at five in the morning and get back to my family by nineteen hundred, but it’s definitely worth it,” said Clark.

Most of the 48 GSE Sailors are temporarily assigned barracks in Everett.

“It took a lot of prior planning to get the crew situated in barracks,” said Weatherby. “There are a lot of other challenges, because we are so remote from Stennis. When the e-mail went down on the ship [during an upgrade], we were limited to phones, which didn’t always mean having direct communication either.”

Weatherby said the team relies on local connections at Everett and NavalAir Station Whidbey Island’s Fleet Readiness Center (the shore version of Stennis’ aircraft intermediate maintenance department) for things like an unexpected missing part
or tool.

Weatherby is one of the Sailors commuting from Bremerton every day, and he said morning rush hour takes more than two hours of travel; evening travel takes more than three hours, both attributed to heavy Seattle-area traffic.

“I get tired, but I’m proud of my crew,” said Weatherby. “Seeing how this team pulls together makes it worth it.”

The junior enlisted Sailors resemble a constant maintenance production line, but they say their morale is high, and even the latest arrivals know where they fit when it comes to Stennis’ mission.

“I feel like I’m ahead of my peers,” said Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Annah Callery, who joined the Navy from Leitchfield, Ky., and arrived from ‘A’ school approximately one month before PIA. “I’ve learned a lot of details about the gear I’ll be working with when we deploy, since I’ve seen a lot of it taken completely apart and put back together. But I can’t wait to get back to Stennis, go underway and start on my [qualifications]. I want to work on the flight deck. That’s very exciting.”

GSE Sailors who’ve been deployed with Stennis say they enjoy the opportunity to experience frequent liberty ashore.

“If I compare this with work on Stennis, I guess this gives me an idea of what shore duty will be like,” said Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Robert Chirdon, from Fallentimber, Pa.

Naval Station Everett’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities are available to the Stennis Sailors, but the GSE team also organizes frequent sports games and command picnics.

“We have potluck barbeques and play softball and football, and it helps keep everyone motivated,” said Gayle.

The GSE team will use several 18-wheelers in the course of one week to transfer all the equipment back to Stennis in mid-November.