Deployment Chronicles–> Article 20 “Fighter Jets, Woosh!”

My most interesting story was being officer of the deck during plane guard operations with the carrier. When you are sailing with the carrier, you are pretty much a dog tethered to a very short leash, in which the carrier orders you around at all times and doesn’t allow you to stray too far from their reach so they can task you 24/7. Its one of their most favorite things to do. They especially like to speed up to 30+ knots and then order you into formation even when you can not possibly go that fast to keep up. As it turns out my watch was going to have the first plane guard duties once we were on station, so unfortunately I was unable to come up to the bridge and observe before I was in charge of making it happen.

For plane guard, you must station astern and a little to the right of the carrier at 4,000 yards. Seems easy enough, except they turn
around a lot and you have to maintain station off of them, which is doable, but it takes some planning and coordination to make happen. What we do is set up a path for the inbound aircraft, so they know where to land on the carrier. This is especially helpful at night because during the day they can do a short turn and land fairly easily on the carrier, but at night they must come in on a long extended leg and set themselves up off of our ship with our aircraft light, as part of the runway to the carrier for safety reasons.

The sun was just setting when they first called us into station and I was reading the air-plan trying to figure out how this was going to
work when the captain came to the bridge. He helped us maneuver to our station, and then explained it to me. Basically, most of the fighter jets spend their days flying over land conducting certain missions and when the carrier turns to Foxtrot Corpen (the course for airplane recovery) they launch a slew of aircraft and they recover the aircraft that were out patrolling for the past few hours during the same flight quarters. This means all of the aircraft leaving take off, and once they are out-of-the-way, all of the aircraft returning, return. It’s very cool to watch. There are 2 tankers that will take off right before this whole thing starts and when aircraft take off they will refuel them in flight if they need it or they fly in case an aircraft misses the landing a few times and has to try several times to get on deck. If this happens they will become dangerously low on fuel, so they will have a tanker in the sky on hot standby to give them some fuel to land on deck.

When the first few fighter jets took off they did a little show for us flying by in 2′s and 3′s and spinning around. I was out on the bridge wing watching them through the big eyes and it was extremely neat. The flight plan itself is not easy to read. It’s a piece of paper with all kinds of symbols and things written on it, but the captain showed me how to read it and we had 15 aircraft coming in for the landing. On the back they always have a cartoon, and it normally pertains to the pilots on the carrier. Well, needless to say I don’t get them. I stare at the cartoon and try my hardest to understand it but I honestly never get it and then the captain will come up and laugh hysterically at these cartoons and I just laugh like I get it, when I absolutely positively do not. Haha.

As they start their decent and run for the carrier, they fly right over top of us at 800 feet and the FA-18 Superhornets are the biggest and the loudest, and the coolest!!! The captain called for me and we ran out to the bridge wing and there we stood, looking up into the sky, the wind furiously whipping our faces, and in the distance you could see about 4 red dots all lined up as they make their approach one right after the other. The first one to come was a superhornet, you always know because they have two port red running lights and two starboard green running lights on both sides, all of the other aircraft just have one.

We were also listening to the carriers tower frequencies, so you can listen to all of the action as it happens and you know exactly what they are doing, which is even cooler. The guy in the tower will tell them how far apart to get between each other and they have all these codes, to tell each other what’s going on and it is definitely very cool once you are in the loop and understand what they are saying. The captain did a very good job explaining it because by the end of the flight quarters, I had a very good idea of what was going on. When the first superhornet came over head, it was extremely loud and he was right there in the sky above us. There was half a moon so it illuminated the FA-18 perfectly, and I could see everything on its underbelly and watch the landing gear as it came out in preparation for the touch down on the carrier. They land the aircraft very quickly and efficiently, with about 90 seconds in between ,so they have to get them on deck and taxied out of the way fast so they can get the next guy on deck. We watched all 15 of them land, and when you are set up perfectly on station you have a direct view to the runway on the flight deck of the carrier, so you can also see them touchdown, if you watch close enough.

In this instant, out there on the bridge wing, standing with the captain, watching the super hornets fly, with a deafening roar above me, I finally realized the meaning of something the speaker had said at my OCS (Officer Candidate School) graduation. He had repeated several times “Well, you can’t do something like that in Madison Wisconsin.” when referencing certain things he had done throughout his naval career.

Being in charge of a war ship right behind an aircraft carrier, while watching 15 aircraft land, including super hornets was one of those moments. And so now I’m going to insert my own hometown into this saying, because it explains everything perfectly. “Well, I can’t do something like that in Mount Pleasant.”

Deployment Chronicles–> Article 8 “The Rock”

Let’s see where do I even begin??? We’ve been in a whirlwind of activity the past few days! I unfortunately lost my voice three days ago but I’m still talking as much as usual so this has not gone well for me. The ship was given the small pox vaccination over past few weeks in preparation of our world travels and the shot leaves a pretty nasty black lump on your arm if you’re familiar. Some of the symptoms can be common cold like things, so my cough and loss of voice is due to that… I think.

A few days ago we were out playing chase with the carrier and it is not my most favorite thing to do. Basically while the carrier conducts flight ops, which is all the time, they have a smaller ship very close and offset behind them in case there is a crash. At night it also sets the planes up for their landing when they are coming in. The idea of cyclic flight ops is actually quite in genius.

They have a group of F-18’s take off, plus some other aircraft, and they start at a very high altitude and circle down in this big race track loop and when you get to the bottom altitude you land. A few months ago I actually stood out on the bridge wing and watched it for a few hours so I finally started to understand how it works. We had not played this game with the carrier in a while so the Captain was on the bridge with about 3 other Lieutenants (LT’s) and there was a lot of yelling to say the least. One of the main reasons is because once the aircraft takes off from the carrier they turn around and steam back to the beginning point very fast so they can turn around and recover their aircraft with the right winds. We must chase after them and its always nerve racking to be out steaming so close to the carrier. Here is a diagram that might explain it a little bit better.

By the end of watch we had it down and the Captain was actually sleeping in his chair. Ha. I talked to J about his room on the carrier since all officers are normally right underneath the flight deck. He said it is SOO LOUD as they get catapulted off and when they are landing. I can only imagine. They were flying in pairs and two flew by our ship and it was a loud roar as they were zooming past. I ran out to the bridge wing and waved, I don’t think they saw me.

A few days after that we had an UNREP (this is where you come alongside of a oiler for fuel and stores) so we also had our first real Vertrep in which a helo brings pallets of food and drops it off on the flight deck. This is how we get stores without pulling into ports.

Well I was a conning officer which means I was driving the ship while within 200ft. of the other oiler. As I said before my voice was pretty much gone and I just had a bad feeling about this one. As soon as I got up their I realized that it was pretty windy and very hard to hear. I was setting myself up for a battle the whole time shouting and trying to be loud enough.

Well, I took the CONN from one of the other junior officers and not two minutes after I did, two very bad things happened. One I waited a little bit too long to speed up when we were falling back and two I ordered a left course change instead of a right course change and no one was paying attention to me so no one caught it, not even myself and I had been up there on the Conn for about 6 times previously.

That .5 degree course change in the wrong direction was not good. As we sped up the ship to regain position, the pocket of water between us and the oiler since we are only 160ft. away pushed us out just from the dynamics of it. And when I gave a left order instead of a right to come back, we got pushed out really far. So far in fact that the fuel lines popped out with a loud pop. I was just watching it happen and everyone started screaming. The captain jumped out of his seat and got really close to me and started giving me orders. I followed all of them promptly but I was really shocked with the events.

My hand was clutching the phone that I was yelling into, and I was gripping it so tightly my hand was actually asleep and cramping and I couldn’t even move it. These are the  no shit moments when you make it or break it. My only consolance was that the captain did not fire me and allowed me to finish conning till we broke away although we never were able to regain fuel at that station.

Some of the gages cracked and the pressure was very high so they couldn’t bring the lines back across. At the debreif afterwards I told everyone it was my fault that we had lost the fuel lines and about the screw up I had made. It was very hard since normally I do a pretty good job, but I mean when you screw up you must fess up. I had watch after that and the captain came up to the bridge and asked to speak to me on the bridge wing. I was freaking out because I had a very bad feeling I was going to get yelled at. It was quite the opposite actually.

He told me that he has not lost any confidence in my ability. He said the conning coach screwed up too because he did not have his full undivided attention on me as I was conning. He finally said that he has done a laundry list of things in his naval career that are horrible and I should think about what happened today because it wasn’t good, but I should get over it and move on, because that’s all I can do. So encouraging in fact that I lost no sleep that night. It was a HUGE lesson learned though. I don’t ever want to mess up an UNREP again.

A few other days ago we transited the STROG, which is the straits of Gibraltor. See the pictures attached because they are very informative (Thanks M!). So when you enter the STROG you are able to see Europe on your left and Africa on your right. It is very cool.

This was sort of how we transited across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

If you see Spain and Morocco that very small slit between the pink and the purple of the 2 countries is where the Straits of Gibraltar (STROG) is located. You can see both countries as you sail by.

A gorgeous picture of Morocco.

Proof that I was there!

I have a port coming up shortly and I signed up for 2 tours that sound absolutely amazing. I must go now though, I have watch shortly and have to do my rounds beforehand. See ya!

Holding “The Rock” in my hands!