I always knew I was going to serve, I just didn't know when. I was studying fire science in school, but I was kind of slacking off. I remember being on YouTube looking at all of these crash and salvage videos. I started emailing the guy who had uploaded them. It turned out he was in crash and salvage back in the 70s. He told me all about their jobs and the schools they can attend. I emailed a couple other Aviation Boatswain's Mates (Handling)., and everything I heard about ABH was all positive. I knew that's what I wanted to do. ABHs are the only ones who have fire trucks and I would be getting hands-on firefighting training.
When I first got to the ship three years ago, I remember thinking, "this place is huge!" I didn't think I'd ever be able to see everything around the ship. Now if you ask me where anything is, I can tell you where it is and take you right to it in less than two minutes. The ship seems so small now.
People always associate the Navy with the aircraft carriers, and it's a surreal feeling sometimes. Living on an aircraft carrier is not at all like living at home. Out to sea, our roof is the flight deck so when planes land you hear it -- and when they turn the planes on, you definitely hear it.
When I got to the boat, I originally started off in the V-3 division which is in the hangar bay. One time, I spent two weeks straight on duty. I didn't leave the ship at all because I wanted to show my chain of command that I wanted to go to the V-1 division and work on the flight deck.
Three months later, I finally made it to V-1. Making it to the flight deck was just the first step; I was still determined to be in crash and salvage. I would stay up late chalking and chaining on the birds that came in, just to prove that I wanted to get into "crash".
Two months into this last deployment, my fly PO (petty officer) pulled me aside and told me that I was going to "crash". At the time, I was 19, at that age there are a lot of people who are just thinking about being a firefighter, I was actually going to be one. I didn't sleep that night-- I actually didn't sleep for two full days because I went to straight to work and sat in my first fire truck rotation, wearing all of the gear. That gear makes you sweat in places you never thought you'd sweat.
"" Situations rarely happen, believe it or not, but when they do we'll always be the first ones there."
When you think of a hectic place like the flight deck, you see all of these planes moving around, all of these people running around. But, it's actually a pretty safe place if you know what you're doing. You've got a bunch of people up there that you trust and work with all the time, even if they're not in "crash", like the blue shirts, yellow shirts, all the plane captains and all those guys.
Situations rarely happen, believe it or not, but when they do we'll always be the first ones there. I remember a couple of times where we had to respond to emergencies. Sometimes F-18s would come in and leak fuel out of their wings. I had to spray them with water using the fire extinguisher and make sure the clean up was done correctly.
We have a line crew who places pins into the main mounts of the plane so it doesn't collapse under itself. There were a couple of times where I had to go in and do that because a plane came in with hydraulic failure. I was under there working while the plane was still running, putting in the pin.
You can be sitting back for two weeks where nothing goes wrong and in that moment where something does; it's just like second nature. We're training all the time so when a situation like that happens you just go blank, have tunnel vision, and execute. I don't know what it is, I guess it's just an adrenaline rush or something. But every time I've done it, it's the best feeling in the world because you're helping somebody out. The pilot and the ground crew are not going to have to work that much harder because you were in there with enough time to save the plane and the pilot from a disaster.
"Crash" is just one work center with 30 people in it. Sure, some mornings I get woken up by my friend, whipping the curtain open, yanking my blankets off me and yelling at me to get up. But we're a tight-knit group who is always helping each other out in and out of work. I owe a lot of gratitude to: ABH1 Inge, ABH2 Smith, ABH3 Soliai, ABH3 Chavez, ABHAN Wasson and ABHAN Barnes.