[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]
PO Dorothy Davies, who was one of the Support people serving pizza last Saturday, sends out the XO’s P.O.D. (Plan of the Day), where we find out what we’re supposed to be doing tomorrow, as opposed to what we actually will do, given altered circumstances and alternative tasking to meet same. (This happens a lot. Like that hellish weekend trying to find and fix the helo fueling problem, or when we get a go fast green. Like that.)
One thing that’s almost always on Dottie’s P.O.D. is flight ops, which means launching and recovering the helo. This is a long and involved process, an elaborate choreography that simultaneously involves a whole bunch of the crew on the bridge, on the hangar deck, on the flight deck, in the aviation gas pump room, in Combat and in main control. It is further complicated by continual fine-tuning and by the fact that we’re breaking in new personnel somewhere along the line almost every flight ops (Chief Greg Colvin and Chief Wes Gilmartin as LSO, CWO Tony Parker and CWO Jimmy Olson as HCO, and more coming up behind them).
Sometimes we do it twice. Sometimes we do it at night.
First there’s a flight brief in CIC where the flight plan is discussed, the comms and route reviewed followed by the GAR evaluation to ensure it’s safe to proceed (I’ve heard about all this – a bunch of the details are classified). Then we pipe flight con I, getting manned up and ready for flight ops. The starboard boat is the ready boat, off the boat deck davit and at the main deck rail, ready to load, lower and launch in case of splash (which is just what it sounds like). The LSO and the flight deck crew, consisting of four tie-downs and the five-man fueling detail (four fuelers and one of those two poor guys in the fire retardant “baked potato suit” (which is a great suit for the Bering Sea but not so much for an EPAC patrol), muster in the hanger to get geared up. The LSO wears yellow, the tiedowns blue (aka ‘The Blueberries’), and the fueling detail purple (aka ‘The Grapes’) – the pumps in the aviation gas pump room are painted that same color.
On the bridge are assembled the twin towers, the XO at port and the Captain at starboard, who share a positively preternatural ability to monitor every scrap of conversation and radio communication on the bridge (I’ve seen both their heads whip around when someone mutters something they think nobody else can hear. Then CO and XO look at each other across the bridge and have a whole conversation without saying a word, with maybe an occasional eyebrow lift, head tilt or lip purse, after which there is usually an order of some kind. It’s spooky.).
Also present of course is the standard watch including the conn, the OOD (who are sometimes the same person but not always), the quartermaster, the helmsman and at least two lookouts either on the bridge wings or at the lookout station above.
By the time flight con I is set, also present on the bridge are HCO (helo control officer) talking to the LSO (landing signals officer on the flight deck), an ET (that would be an electronics technician, not the phone home guy) to make sure all the comms and cameras work, and the phone talker who is communicating with everyone else. Meanwhile, down on the hangar deck, the fire team is suiting up in case the worst happens (they’re in red – ‘the Strawberries’), and the tiedowns deploy two to port, two to starboard, while the fueling team waits to starboard.
The HCO gives the helo the numbers (altimeter, wind speed, direction, the pitch and roll of the ship, like that), the aviators confirm using hand signals and start the engine, the rotors start to turn, the Captain gives permission to conduct flight ops, the HCO gives permission to the helo, the LSO waves their right arm counterclockwise once and points to port, and the helo lifts off and roars past the bridge.
Or it does when it doesn’t crabwalk around the stern to immediately return for touch and goes, either on the center line or on the oblique (at a 45 degree angle, corresponding to lines painted on the flight deck), and possibly a hot gas refuel (Hot is when the rotors are turning. Cold is when the rotors are stationary.). The tiedowns and the fuel team members bend very low and trot very fast between the sides of the hangar and the helo beneath the rotors at the direction of the LSO – they get a little something extra in their paycheck for this chore.
Then the helo goes away for a while, and we set flight con II, where everyone has to be able to achieve flight con I in five minutes, and when it comes back we do everything all over again, except in reverse.
It is always the same. It is never the same. It’s Fred and Ginger, and we’re the ones dancing backwards in high heels.
And it’s almost always on Dottie’s plan of the day.
Today we also had a General Quarters drill, where the crew is tested on how ready they are to respond in the event of an attack. PO Tracy Mellott was manning the AFFF pump. She is responsible for the system that sprays the Aqueous Film Forming Foam to coat the engine room bilges, Dirty Oil Pump Room, Helo Hanger, Incinerator Room and JP-5 in case of fire. Her chic ensemble (see photo) is complete with flash hood, fire retardant shirt, radio, flash gloves, and self-contained breathing apparatus. I’m sorry to report that we failed our drill (we should have been ready in 4 minutes, it took us 11:35, and yes, there is a stopwatch involved), but I have a sneaking suspicion that the devil, oh, I’m sorry, of course I meant to say training officer LTJG Morgan Barbieri has already thought of a way to improve our time.