Dodg­ing planes and taste of home: Life on a US air­craft car­rier

The Sunday Guardian - - World - ABOARD USS HARRY S. TRU­MAN REUTERS

The rou­tine be­gins with a raised hand wav­ing fu­ri­ously and ends, like a wellex­e­cuted ballet, on one knee, arm ex­tended for­ward and two pointed fin­gers sig­nal­ing take-off.

The flight deck of the USS Harry S. Tru­man rum­bles as a fighter jet loaded with ord­nance is cat­a­pulted into the sky, leav­ing be­hind it a trail of white mist and of­fi­cers in color-coded jer­seys rac­ing back into po­si­tion for the next air­craft.

“You’ve got to keep your head on the swivel,” said Lieu­tenant Melvin Gid­den, one of the yel­low-shirted cat­a­pult of­fi­cers—or shoot­ers— who launch and re­cover the planes through an elab­o­rate se­quence of hand sig­nals. “It’s busy, it’s jet ex­haust blow­ing around, he­li­copter ro­tors twist­ing and turn­ing and all kinds of stuff that’s go­ing on.”

A US naval strike force led by the Tru­man be­gan sor­ties against Is­lamic State in Syria on Thurs­day, at the start of its months-long de­ploy­ment in the Mediter­ranean Sea. At 1,096-feet, it is al­most as long as the Em­pire State Build­ing is tall—a city on the wa­ter for its 5,000-mem­ber crew. But it is not like any other city. The 4.5-acre flight deck can hold 90 air­craft, in- clud­ing F/A-18F Su­per Hor­net striker jets. Mis­siles are car­ried onto parked jets and sailors run on tread­mills in the hangar.

On the deck, just feet away from the air­craft, shoot­ers crouch to avoid be­ing hit by a wing. Then there is the weather.

“Some­times it’s stress­ful be­cause of the heat, some­times it’s stress­ful be­cause of the rain,” Gid­den said. “But we’re out there rain, sleet or snow. We’ve got to launch them all.”

Air op­er­a­tions go on for about 12 hours daily and, to main­tain rhythm, each pi­lot flies about once a day.

With such a hec­tic work­place, keep­ing spir­its high is im­por­tant - from pick­ing a film for the crew to watch, to get­ting food with the fla­vor of home on board.

Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Ri­ley Se­crist, who han­dles food ser­vices, said new re­quests, included soy and al­mond milk.

“Also Ital­ian chocolate is be­com­ing a thing,” he said. In the gal­leys, where 18,500 meals are made ev­ery day, cooks fu­ri­ously pre­pare the day’s menu, scrib­bled on a white­board: grilled chicken bar­be­cue, beef stir fry, veg­gie med­ley. Petty Of­fi­cer First Class Ho­caly Pena, who has run a navy kitchen for 15 years, knows well the im­por­tance of food.

“If some­body is up­set and comes to the line and sees some­thing that they like, it cheers them up a lit­tle bit,” he said. “It brings a lit­tle bit of home out here.”

US Navy cat­a­pult of­fi­cers, sig­nal to an F/A-18 fighter jet pi­lot for safe take off, in the east­ern Mediter­ranean Sea on 4 May.

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