Story by MC2 Heather Seelbach
Photo by MC3 Benjamin Crossley
The men and women in Air Department’s V2 division are tasked with a responsibility to safely launch and recover aircraft on the flight deck. Although they are well known as the quintessential green shirts, few understand the grease and the glory of their unique job.
Although many departments, divisions and squadrons don green jerseys, V2 division is one of the largest on the ship, with more than 200 people from three different ratings: Aviation Boatswain’s Mates (Equipment) (ABEs), Interior Communications Electricians (ICs) and Electrician’s Mates (EMs). ABEs make up about 85 percent of V2. ICs and EMs make up the other 15 percent.
“It pays off when you see it all come together,” said ABE3 Susan Luong. “You get a satisfaction from it. You can say ‘I did that, I helped with that.’ If I didn’t join the Navy, I’d never get to see this.”
Although these rates and work centers may not seem to go together, the various tasks they perform and the equipment they operate are all intertwined. Like the gears in a precision timepiece, they must be synchronized to keep things running smoothly.
V2 operates and maintains aircraft launch and recovery equipment (ALRE) consisting of four catapults and five arresting gear systems, and visual landing aid (VLA) equipment.
The ABEs take care of the mechanical aspects of V2 division by operating and maintaining four catapults, five arresting gear systems and associated equipment. Their work centers and watch stations are on the 0-3 level, the flight deck, and primary flight control.
According to Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Jessica Scott an ABE must endure many hardships to be successful in V2. They must be tough but willing to take orders and learn at the same time, she said.
“We work in all weather conditions; rain, sleet, snow, heat, it doesn’t matter,” said Scott. “If we have a job to do, it’s going to get done, or we don’t go to bed.”
“I think we’re the hardest working people on the ship by far,” said Chief Aviation Boatswains Mate (Equipment) (AW/SW) James Ortiz. “Whether standing watch on the flight deck or manning up below decks, we work in a noisy, greasy and dirty environment where 20 hour days are not uncommon. It’s just what we do.”
Airmen are taught in “A” school that the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous places in the world to work. V2 practices operational risk management to mitigate the risks. Safety briefs are a daily occurrence, and Sailors are taught to keep their head on a swivel.
“The challenge is to get the crew to not be complacent and not drop their guard,” said Ortiz. “Things can go wrong when you least expect it.”
The ABEs that stand watch, or man-up as they call it, below decks must be vigilant as well. Not standing a proper watch could result in damage to equipment and danger to personnel.
Despite the long hours, difficult working conditions and lack of sleep, many ABEs say that they take pride in what they do.
“When people ask, ‘what do you do for a living?’ I can say that I launch and recover aircraft. I like my job,” said Luong.
The ICs and EMs take care of the technical side of V2 division while working together in the visual landing aid, or VLA work center, located on the 0-3 level.
“Knowing that VLA plays a part in launching and recovering aircraft is a satisfying feeling,” said IC1 (SW/ AW) Michael Whittier. “That’s the entire purpose of an aircraft carrier: to launch and recover aircraft.”
One of the systems that this work center is responsible for is the improved fresnel lens optical landing system (IFLOLS), which creates a glide slope that pilots use to line up for landing.
If the ship is in rough waters, ICs use the manually operated visual landing aid system, or MOVLAS. When this system is in operation, the landing signal officer must manually operate the VLA.
They also record flight ops for safety and training purposes with a system called integrated launch and recovery television surveillance, or ILARTS. More than 20 cameras are continually recording data from launches and landings.
The EMs in VLA are tasked with maintaining all flight deck lighting. They must ensure that that the centerline, deck edge lights, rotary beacons and all other lights work properly.
“When you look at V2 from the outside, and see all the different ratings, it doesn’t match up,” said IC1 (SW/AW) Michael Whittier. “When you see how all the equipment and personnel work together on the flight deck, that’s when it makes sense.”
Whether they are maintaining aircraft launch and recovery equipment, manning up watch stations or keeping the flight deck lit, every Sailor in V2 has an integral part to play in ensuring that Stennis can launch and recover aircraft safely and successfully.