By: Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Tyson Collinson
Air department is the bread and butter of an Aircraft Carrier and Aviation Boatwain’s Mate (Handling) , or ABHs, are found on the Flight Deck (V-1 Division) and the Hangar Bay (V-3 Division). I have a little experience in the Hangar Bay, but my home as an ABH will forever be found on the Flight Deck.
You may have seen the commercials, pictures, posters, and our rate in movies. We are called “skittles” on the Flight Deck of an aircraft carrier. The color of jersey we wear represents the title we hold. Yellow shirts are Aircraft Directors who direct, taxi and move aircraft. Blue jerseys are Tractor Drivers, Elevator Operators, and Plane Handlers. Red is Crash and Salvage and Maintenance (the flight deck fire fighting team).
Then there’s me, the one wearing a Blue Float Coat and a Yellow jersey, the Tractor King. I’m in charge of all Ground Support Equipment on the flight deck and help out wherever needed.
I’ve heard the statement, “you pick your rate you pick your fate,” numerous times when we are spread thin across the flight deck, continuously laboring and pulling tow bars or lugging around 35 lbs at minimum. We have no choice but to operate effectively on little sleep after meals eaten in 15 minutes or less. You’re waiting to hear “Final-Final” come over the 5-MC indicating that you’re coming to the end of a smooth 16-hour workday, but an aircraft comes in for recovery.
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate’s (Handling) are always on our ‘A’ game and are ready for anything at anytime. We train hard and we train often. We rely on each other on the flight deck, along with our fellow rated airdales. I can’t speak for other rates, but I know ABH. ABHs are our own firefighting squad; we own the scene, manage background assistance, and clear the aircraft out of the Landing Area. We can contain and control any fire, and even cool ordnance for Explosive Ordnance Disposal.
We may have a love-hate relationship with each other, but we are really one big dysfunctional family. We spend roughly 16-18 hours together every single day on an eight-month deployment. We ultimately rely on each other. You may choose your rate which makes your fate, but you don’t get to choose your family. Just like any other family, you make it work… and we do on the Flight Deck - every day.
While in DPIA, ABHs are a little out of our element. We work best in an intense, fast-paced, quick- decision making environment. Right now we are focusing on our flight deck the nonskid, the island, our deck edges, catwalks, light lockers and interior spaces that could use a little more TLC than they normally get- nothing nearly as awesome as what we are more accustomed to, but still necessary.
It can be a struggle being a single parent in the Navy and as an ABH, the job is a little more time consuming. With the help of my amazing and supportive family, as well as friends and my immediate chain of command, not just I, but WE make it work.
It’s an honor to be an ABH. It may not be for everyone; we work hard and get dirty. We get tired, but we push our minds, bodies and patience to the max almost every day. We are a family and share a sense of humor and personality traits that you don’t find quite often below the flight deck. Being an ABH is something else, like nothing else; and I wouldn’t want to be anything else.