Archives for category: Air Department


Story by MCSN Carla Ocampo
Photo by MC3 Benjamin Crossley

Just as Sailors need water to keep their body functioning, jets need fuel to keep their engines burning and there’s only one team aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) who can provide it.

Often referred to as “grapes” because of the purple jerseys they wear, V-4 Division consists primarily of Aviation Boatswain’s Mates (Fuel) who pump fuel into aircraft, ground equipment, emergency diesel generators and ship’s incinerators.

“We are responsible for the fueling system on board” said Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) William Lund. “We are in charge of JP-5 storage and as well as maintaining equipment used to transfer fuel.”

V-4 is divided into two main areas, below decks and flight deck, explained Lund. Below decks is the biggest area of responsibility and divided into two work centers.

“Below decks personnel are responsible for all JP-5 operations from the first deck and below,” said Lund. “They are responsible for all JP-5 accountability, purification process and delivery to the flight deck.”

Depending on the missions, Stennis uses anywhere from 80,000 to 190,000 gallons of fuel a day. With so much fuel being used it’s important to stay replenished.

“Another responsibility of V-4 below decks is receiving fuel during replenishments at sea (RAS),” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) Airman Roy Hermosillo. “Without fuel we wouldn’t be able to really do anything.”

Flight deck is divided into three work centers: flight deck refueling crews, flight deck repair and fuel quality assurance (QA) lab.

“Flight deck personnel are responsible for all J-P5 operations, from the hangar deck to the flight deck,” said Lund. “They deliver fuel to the aircraft and monitor the quality of the fuel received and delivered throughout the day.”

Through the coordination of V-4 flight deck control, eight refueling crews ensure all aircraft are fueled so they are ready to launch at a moment’s notice in support of daily sustained operations.

“Fuel has to be available on time, 24 hours a day to ensure no operational delays,” said Lund.

To ensure no delays flight deck repair ensures that the integrity of all fueling stations is in optimal condition and repairs are conducted in a timely manner.

Stennis’ immense 3.5 million gallon fuel system consists of 189 tanks, 2 JP-5 pump rooms, 4 JP-5 filter rooms, 18 refueling stations, and countless miles of piping in order to get it to the right areas.

Along with ABFs who pump fuel V-4 console repair is responsible for the smart ship console used to control and monitor all JP-5 valves in the system.

“They also maintain the 4JG sound powered system allowing all V-4 work centers to communicate with each other,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) 1st Class Flores.

Working together with every aspect of their department V-4 has received and distributed seven million gallons of fuel helping Stennis stay mission ready at all times.

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Story by MC3 Dugan Flynn
Photo by MC2 Walter Wayman

Moving 450,000 gallons of JP5, 300 pallets of vital stores, and more than 30 pallets of crew mail could be considered a great effort, but that’s exactly what sailors aboard USS John C. Stennis accomplish each week.

Teams comprised of Sailors from Supply, Air, and Deck Departments, as well as many others, come together to perform replenishments at sea (RAS) on a regular basis while on deployment.

“RAS are vital not only operationally, but also for crew support,” said Boatswains Mate 2nd Class (SW/SC) Alex Armour, a rig captain assigned to Stennis’ Deck Department. “It’s the method which we receive fuel and necessary stores that come aboard the ship. It’s also important because that’s how we get our mail. It has a great impact on morale to allow personnel to get packages and letters from loved ones back home.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Smith, the Fuels Boatswain, said when flight operations are in progress, the aircraft on board consume an average of 120,000 gallons a day and must replenish up to 1,000,000 gallons every seven to ten days.

“Without fuel, our planes can’t fly and we’re dead in the water,” said Smith. “To maintain sustainability and launch aircraft, it’s very important that we get the fuel, clean it and deliver it to the planes.”

To ensure the fuel is the best quality Stennis could possibly receive, the fuel lab must run a series of tests on it before filling the ship’s fuel tanks.

“The first thing we do when we take in fuel from another ship is make sure it’s JP5,” said Smith. “At the beginning of the fueling process, we take a sample to the Quality Assurance lab. The main thing I’m looking for is the appearance and flashpoint to be 140 degrees or above.”

During extended periods out at sea, a RAS is important to bring the supplies to the ship when it isn’t feasible to pull into a port.

“The main importance of a RAS is to replenish the carrier out at sea,” said Senior Chief Logistics Specialist Gerard Penrose, Stennis’ hangar bay and safety coordinator for the RAS. “This allows us to stay on station so we don’t have to pull into port every time we need to get supplies again.”

It takes the efforts and teamwork of the entire ship to complete a RAS and ensure the whole evolution is safe and efficient said Penrose.

“The RAS is not just a supply evolution,” said Penrose, “It’s an entire ship evolution. We as supply couldn’t do it without Deck Department, the Navigation team, the Bridge team; every individual plays a key role in the successful onload of materials onboard the ship.”

Replenishments at sea play a vital role for ship’s readiness by maintaining maximum efficiency while conducting extended operations out to sea.

Story by MC2 Heather Seelbach
Photo by MC3 Benjamin Crossley

Looking down from a lofty vantage point on the 0-10 level, a Sailor in a white jersey tracks an F/A-18E Hornet as it departs the flight deck. Another Sailor peers through binoculars to identify a plane as it comes in for landing.

These Sailors and their co-workers are hand-picked from Air Department to assist the Air Boss and the Mini Boss with tracking and identifying aircraft. They work in primary flight control, known as “pri-fly” or “the tower.”

When aircraft are embarked on the ship, pri-fly must be manned 24 hours a day, and during fixed and rotary wing aircraft operations, the Air Boss and Mini Boss occupy front row seats.

“It’s a very professional atmosphere,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class Jennifer Terry. “We get to work closely with two commanders [Air Boss and
Mini Boss] as well as representatives from each squadron.”

The squadron representatives are pilots who troubleshoot any unforeseen problems for each other and occupy pri-fly during case one (better than 5,000 feet of visibility) or case two recoveries (down to 1,000 feet of visibility).

Pri-fly Sailors are responsible for more than seven watch stations which they must qualify for by completing personnel qualification standards (PQS).

These watches include the tower supervisors, tower operator, ISIS operator, landing signal officer (LSO) platform spotter, record keeper and forward and aft spotters.

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Chris Nollinger, the newest member of pri-fly, is currently working on his forward spotter qualification. He was recently recruited to V5 by his division officer.

“One day, my Divo came to me and said, ‘you’d be a good fit for V5,’ said Nollinger. “I interviewed with the Air Boss and Mini Boss, and they decided to bring me aboard.”

Proper training is essential due to the critical nature of the positions they occupy, said Terry.

“If the aft spotter miscalls an aircraft type and has the arresting gear set to the wrong weight, it can damage an aircraft, destroy the arresting gear wire or injure people on the flight deck,” said Terry.

In addition to the Air and Mini Bosses, pri-fly Sailors and squadron representatives, two watchstanders from V-2 also occupy positions in pri-fly during flight ops.

The abundance of personnel, tight quarters and fast-paced environment can get demanding at times, said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Airman Quiana Bailey.

“The most challenging thing about working up here is multi-tasking,” said Bailey. “It’s crowded, and there’s a lot going on.”

Despite the hectic environment, many who work in pri-fly enjoy the air-conditioned, bird’s eye view of the flight deck.

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.

Story by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kathleen O’Keefe
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate

The USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCSCSG) began its composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) yesterday after pulling out of San Diego.

COMPTUEX, a three-week evolution required of each carrier strike group before departing for a deployment overseas, will allow JCSCSG to deploy to any theatre of operations in the world.

“COMPTUEX is the cornerstone of our workup cycle,” said Stennis’ Strike Operations Officer, Cmdr. Stevin Johnson. “It will be the first full integration with the strike group, in which we will train for operations that we might face on deployment.”

Stennis will work with embarked Carrier Air Wing Nine (CVW) 9, Destroyer Squadron Twenty One (DESRON 21), USS Mobile Bay and other independent Navy ships in combating different scenarios presented by Commander, Strike Force Training Forces Pacific (CSFTP).

“COMPTUEX really makes everyone come together as a team, said Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (SW/AW) Patrick McKeever, who participated in COMPTUEX with Stennis during its last deployment cycle. “On a large scale all the ships come together and train for deployment. Internally, the ship’s company trains with essentially everyone that will be on deployment. It really prepares the entire strike group for successful operations when we deploy.”

The scenarios led by CSFTP will challenge ships, the air wing, and the entire strike group, in their ability to handle a variety of circumstances the strike group could potentially encounter while deployed. CSFTP will evaluate the strike group and present results to Commander, U.S. Third Fleet.

“We will be demonstrating the strike group’s combat efficiency,” said Stennis Executive Officer Capt. Michael Wettlaufer. “Everything on Stennis will be a key part to the success. From our communication links, satellites, launching aircraft, down to the propulsion plants, Stennis will act as a huge piece in this exercise.”

The cruiser and destroyers in the strike group will act as defense perimeters against air, submarine and surface threats, protecting Stennis so it can project its force abroad.

“COMPTUEX is the final stone, and will bring us into joint task force exercise [JTFEX], where other branches of the military will work with the strike group and we can train as a joint service,” said Johnson.

JTFEX is the final exercise Stennis and the strike group must complete before deployment.

COMPTUEX will bring JCSCSG ships and aircraft together to prepare a force capable of protecting the nation’s interests and security anywhere in the world.

Story and photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Lex T. Wenberg

The Fuel Quality Control Lab of Air Department V-4 Division has a unique and important mission: to ensure that aircraft and utility vehicles have good clean fuel so both the ship and its crew can continue running at peak performance, keeping Stennis in the fight.

“Without the Quality Control Lab, we simply can’t fly,” said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) (AW/ SW) James Reynolds, V-4’s Division Leading Chief Petty Officer.

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) 2nd Class David Landivittori, the lab’s work-center supervisor, says the fueling process is not simply a matter of pumping the fuel around the ship. The fuel has to be tested at each stage of the process to ensure proper mixture and to check for unacceptable levels of contaminants such as water.
“There’s always some amount of water in the fuel,” said Landivittori. “But we want to keep the ratio very low. None if possible. Ten parts-per-million is the maximum amount we allow. Any higher and there is risk of ice damage to jet engines because water freezes at high elevations.”

Ice and other contaminants can endanger the mission, personnel and millions of dollars worth of equipment.

“To prevent engine damage, we check that there is the proper amount of Fuel System Icing Inhibitor (FCII) in the fuel,” said Landivittori. FCII is an additive that reduces the likelihood of water remnants freezing and is held at 3 percent minimum.

Water isn’t the only contaminant that can get into the fuel. The lab is the front line defense against minerals from gas lines and tanks.

Another risk the lab helps limit is the danger of early combustion of fuel. They do this by monitoring the flashpoint of the fuel and maintaining it above a certain level.

“We have to ensure that the fuel only burns at a temperature of 140 degrees or higher,” said Landivittori. “It’s actually our biggest concern. We need to make sure that everyone from below decks up to the flight deck is safe.”

Even without an embarked air wing, the Fuels Quality Control Lab sometimes tests hundreds of fuel samples per day.

“Our guys are the best, and I mean that exactly,” said Reynolds. “We received the highest scores ever given on our inspections during this last INSURV. Everyone in fuels is deployment-ready to go.”

In preparation for the arrival of the air wing in a few days, the fuel testing lab will frequently test all the fuel on the ship called “flushing the deck.”

“We have 18 stations and we test samples from each every 24 hours,” said Landivittori. “We also do random tests at all times to ensure purity. We have to put in a lot of effort to make sure everything is ready to go for the air wing. But when the day ends, we go to bed and then we get up the next day and do it all again.”

The Fuels Quality Control Lab always plays an important role in daily operations, but will be crucial to Stennis’ duty of launching mission essential aircraft as a forward deployed carrier during the upcoming deployment.

Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dugan Flynn
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate

Five Stennis Sailors and one Marine were recognized by Stennis’ Commanding Officer Capt. Ronald Reis for being the first responders to a catastrophic engine failure that injured 11 Sailors Wednesday.

The training these responders received aboard Stennis played a direct role in their ability to handle this incident on the flight deck.

“We just acted instantaneously when it happened,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Kenneth Shaffer, the P-25 fire truck driver on the scene who, along with his team in Crash and Salvage, helped to extinguish the aircraft fire. “There wasn’t a lot of emotion at the time; it was just an adrenaline rush. Training kicked in instantly.”

While flight deck personnel worked to extinguish the fire, others began responding to the wounded shipmates in the surrounding area.

Marine Corps Cpl. Jacob Fischer of Marine Strike Fighter Training Squadron (VMFAT) 101 helped an injured Sailor with a broken leg by applying pressure to the wound until corpsmen arrived on scene to take over.

“Training put me in autopilot,” said Fischer. “I may not have consciously known what to do, but as soon as the incident happened I ran through all the events in my head. I helped medically and I’m not any sort of medic.”

Training also helped the corpsmen bypass their emotional responses and tend to injured personnel in a timely manner.

“It was a scary situation,” said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Eleysia Friend. “One of when your friend is screaming in pain, it’s hard to keep going. I just knew I had to keep going without letting my emotions take over. The training I’ve received made it possible for me to take care of these people. Everyone was so professional and our efforts were so fluid.”

The first responders worked together as a single unit. Many individuals helped to save lives that day, but it was the work of the entire team that prevented further casualties.

“It was intense,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Apprentice Mason Odegard, the senior airman on the scene. “Pretty much everyone from Crash and Salvage was there helping each other out. Everyone did what they were supposed to.”

Some may feel that training is strict and that they will never be in the position where they need to save the ship or its crew, but Wednesday’s mishap was proof that one never knows when training will be used.

“At drills, the instructors are very particular in how they grade you,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Sean Murray. “Sometimes your work is analyzed so much that you start to question your ability to do your job when a real casualty occurs, but that day something did happen. We really did have to do our jobs to save people’s lives and our entire crew did well. The training really did prepare us to handle the situation, and I didn’t doubt myself while I was working.”

Capt. Reis said everyone acted according to training and with determination.

“I am extremely proud of our crew,” said Capt. Reis. “The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is an inherently dangerous place, but our personnel are well trained to operate safely in this environment. They responded quickly, professionally, and with purpose, extinguishing the aircraft engine fire.”

Mishaps may be rare events, but the training conducted throughout the Navy prepares Sailors and Marines to handle such incidents with an immediate and appropriate response.


Story and photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dugan Flynn

While most of Stennis’ crew sleeps quietly in their racks, one division’s night check is hustling to navigate millions of dollars worth of equipment safely around the ship.

Air Department’s V-3 division night crew has moved aircraft around the hangar bay and to the flight deck with zero mishaps since Stennis’ Planned Incremental Availability (PIA) and works hard every night to maintain this standard.

“No matter what happens off deck in their personal lives, it stays off deck,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class (AW) Lindbergh Wesley. “Once they step on deck, whether they’re making aircraft move or just doing FOD walk down, it’s all business.”

The job of V-3 is to position aircraft in the hangar bays so that squadron members can do maintenance and move them to and from the aircraft elevators on the way to the flight deck.

This may not sound like a difficult task, but V-3 must meet and overcome a series of challenges on a nightly basis.

“We have to move 50-million dollar aircraft in the confined space of the hangar bay,” said Wesley. “We’re also shorthanded. V-3 night crew only has 34 people. We are supposed to have more, but we always get the job done.”

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class (AW) Emily Branchal said she imagines these challenges as a jigsaw puzzle.

“You can’t just put an aircraft anywhere to go up on jacks or for high powered turns,” said Branchal. “We always joke around about how our job is like Tetris.”

Another defining feature of V-3’s night crew is their flexibility to work anytime they are called away.

“Night crew is never on a set schedule because things are always changing,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Tammi McPherson. “We could be eating on the mess decks and someone could come get us at any moment. V-3 always has to be ready to work.”

Branchal, who worked the day shift last deployment, said that even though their routine occasionally gets disrupted in the day time, there is a lot more activity going on at night.

“There’s definitely more down time during the days,” said Branchal. “We get more on the job training at night because we move more aircraft at night.”

The majority of the crew may think there is plenty of room in the hangar bays and on the aircraft elevators, but to someone moving aircraft, these areas can be considered hazardously close.

“Our biggest danger zones are the elevators,” said Branchal. “One of the first times we lowered the elevator after PIA, the aircraft was sitting right on the edge. I wouldn’t let any of my people in training out there. If we have two people out there, one of them in training, that’s an extra person on the elevator that doesn’t need to be there.”

Aside from the risks of the job, Wesley said he likes to compare V-3’s accident-free streak to the winning streak of a good football team.

“Every team wants to go to the Super Bowl, but some teams are satisfied with winning just one game,” said Wesley. “Night crew isn’t satisfied with just one night of safely moving the aircraft and no one getting hurt. They want the whole thing, from work-ups all the way through deployment. Complacency is not good.”

McPherson said this mentality is displayed by the motto of V-3’s night division: “We don’t come to play, we come to win!”

Sailors play Yahtzee with a veteran at the Washington Veterans Retirement home, Nov. 11. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Lauryn Cooper/ Released)

Story by MC3 Eboni Cameron

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. – Veterans Day was a day off for the crew of USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), and four Sailors thought about someone else besides getting their free meal at the local mall.

Four Stennis Sailors played board games and shared sea stories with residents at Washington Veterans Retirement Home Nov. 11.

“It’s a huge honor for me to be here on Veterans Day because I’m third generation Navy,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuels) Airman Apprentice Joseph Hodge, who visits the retirement home almost every Thursday.

Hodge and his shipmates from Air Department pay regular visits to the home throughout the year, but a visit on Veterans Day made it more than just a routine thing.

“It’s special for me to come down and celebrate with these veterans,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuels) Airman James Hiatt. “I think it’s important to show them we are appreciative.”

Some of the residents said they too appreciated the visit.

“I am very grateful to have such nice young Sailors take time to come visit old salts like us,” said resident and former Navy Yeoman Cameron Cook, who served during the Vietnam War. “I am proud to be a veteran, and I am proud to have served my country.”

By taking time out of their own liberty and thinking of others, Sailors helped remind veterans that their past service is appreciated and honored.

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.

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