Story Number: NNS130604-10Release Date: 6/4/2013 12:30:00 PM
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Vargas, USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Public Affairs
USS KEARSARGE, At Sea (NNS) -- Imagine yourself being in charge of landing and directing multimillion-dollar equipment on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3).
Aviation boatswain's mates (handler) are responsible for the launching and recovery of all aircraft on the ship. The smallest mistake can mean the difference between safely landing aircrafts on the flight deck, or landing them on the catwalk to eventually fall into the ocean.
In these jobs, aviation boatswain's mates start out as "blue shirts." These Sailors are usually new airmen who have been in the Navy for a few months. They arrive straight out of "A" school or bootcamp if they are undesignated. You can always count on them being on the flight deck during flight operations.
One responsibility a blue shirt has is to haul around a 35-pound poyurethane chock and two 14-pound steel chains everywhere they go, while battling the winds that all the powerfull aircraft onboard create. These Sailors perform their arduous duties on the flight deck while battling harsh weather conditions and incessant heat. If it is a boiling hot 115 degrees or a freezing cold 20 degrees, these Sailors are out on the flight deck day and night.
"We are out here rain or shine," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Christiana Marszalek. "Wearing our full flight deck uniform during the summer makes us extra hot, and we are always frozen during the winter months. So either way, we are always battling against mother nature."
For these Sailors, a full flight deck uniform consists of a jersey with sleeves rolled down, goggles, float coat, leather gloves and cranial with sound attenuators.
During flight operations, hand signals are the only way for them to communicate with each other and the pilots. The sounds of a busy flight deck, like the roar a AV-8B Harrier during take-off and landing or the spinning of helicopter blades, make speaking with one another impossible.
Blue shirts are required to earn their basic qualifications, which include chocking and chaining, elevator operator and sound-powered phone talker. By getting these qualifications, they can do their jobs and eventually work towards becoming a yellow shirt, the next progression in leadership that includes increased skills and greater responsibilites.
"Getting qualifications and having the drive to motivate others is huge in getting selected to wear a yellow shirt," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 1st Class David Sweaza. "Leadership is what makes a yellow shirt stand out above the rest."
Becoming a yellow shirt usually takes most Sailors an average of one year to complete the required qualifications. For Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman David Mikel, there was no time to lose in earning his yellow shirt as quickly as he could.
"I was a blue shirt for about seven months," said Mikel. "I was determined to get my yellow shirt quicker than anyone who has served aboard Kearsarge. I was a yellow shirt under instruction (UI) in eight months and I earned my yellow shirt at nine months aboard the ship."
Marszalek had to prove herself to her chain of command to show them she can direct aircraft on the flight deck. Qualifications alone do not merit Sailors a yellow shirt.
"I started out working in the office," said Marszalek. "So when I got the opportunity to be on the flight deck, I really had to prove myself and show my supervisors that I can handle being out there."
To direct aircraft, everybody has their eyes open and their "heads on a swivel." Marszalek's attitude, motivation and leadership skills were noticed by her chain of command. During Kearsarge's last deployment, she traded in her blue shirt for a yellow one.
"I was excited and very ecstatic to earn my yellow shirt," said Marszalek. "But at the same time I was a bit nervous of the responsibility that I had gained. You are responsible for everything that happens out there on that flight deck. It's not only my life at risk, it's also the pilots and the blue shirts around me."
The bow safety has to make sure the flight deck is good for Harrier take-offs as the last line of safety before this aircraft departs the ship.
Once a Sailor is selected to become a yellow shirt, they are required to attend Landing Signal Enlisted (LSE) school, where they learn how to launch and recover aircraft. They have to learn all the hand signals and study the manuals and get familiarized with the standard operating procedures (SOP).
For some Sailors, this deployment may be the only shot they get at becoming a yellow shirt, so they need to be ready to step up to the plate when their name is called.