As @EinsteinEP is pestering us all for AAR’s for his new Christmas thread, I thought I’d dig up an old series I started many, many years ago back on That Other Site and transpose it over here before my Photobucket account disappears and the screenshots are lost forever. I know this is probably out of the bounds of the spirit of the contest, but hey, at least it’s some more new (relatively speaking) reading, right? So, without further ado…
May 26, 2009. Naval Air Station Lemoore, California.
I shifted awkwardly in my ejection seat as my plane captain, Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class (AM3) Ryan Moore, helped me strap myself in to the jet.
“So how strange do you think it’s going to feel, sir- going back to your old ship after all this time?”
“Good question,” I replied, pulling the last of the firing pins from the seat and handing them to my young assistant. “It was just about five years ago I left her to go back to school, and I was almost exactly the same age as you are now. Keep that in mind when you go up for your next career development board; the Skipper and the CMC love the idea of any of our hot runners putting in a STA-21 package.”
The plane captain finished helping me strap in, handed me my helmet, and with a hearty thumbs up and a toothy smile, clambered back down the boarding ladder and put on his Cranial for the start; the squadron would be flying down to San Diego later in the afternoon to meet us at the ship while we brought the planes down to North Island for the night. The USS Ronald Reagan was due to depart Naval Station North Island in a couple of days for a three- month RIMPAC. As the newest arrival to VFA-115, I knew that most everybody in the air wing would have their eyes on me. Even though I’d already accumulated the required day and night carrier landings on the Nimitz during our monthly requal just a couple of weeks ago, the Air Wing 14 CAG was going to want to see me in action, not to mention my own CO, XO, and Ops Officer. Petty Officer Moore was right, though; I’d been looking forward to returning to the Reagan since the detailer had first informed me I’d be reporting to the Eagles of Strike Fighter Squadron 115 (VFA-115).
I thought back to when I had submitted my own STA-21 (Seaman to Admiral) package; I’d been a cocky, smart-mouthed nuke EM1 (Electrician’s Mate 1st Class) who was used to getting my own way and ignoring 90% of the khaki’s (officers and senior enlisted personnel) on the ship. It was my Reactor Officer, Captain Ken Harvey, and one of the few officers I would never question, who’d suggested to me that I should think about aviation.
“Spence, I heard you started your package for the STA-21 program a few days ago,” he started between puffs on his Cuban cigar. We were overseas in Rio de Janiero at that time, and with the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Symonds in Washington, DC for President Reagan’s funeral, Captain Harvey had taken full advantage of being acting CO. He’d led a raucous group consisting of most of the Reactor Department to a rowdy bar in Copacabana.
“You’ve got my highest recommendation, and I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ll be picked up. And as much of a cocky know-it-all as you are, if I don’t see you back in the Nuclear world, you’d better have a pair of wings strapped to your chest.”
I smiled to myself as I went through the pre-flight dance with Moore, bringing the electrical systems online, kicking in the APU, and started one engine after the other. My plane captain signaled that everything looked fine from his vantage point outside of the cockpit as he sent me off with a sharp salute before moving towards the squadron hangar, and I finished my checklist and requested permission to taxi. Within minutes I was airborne and heading south for San Diego and my first full deployment with the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan.
May 28, 2009. Off the coast of San Clemente Island, Southern California Operating Area.
“Talon one seven five, correct for lineup!” The LSO called a heartbeat after I turned off the base leg and settled into the groove just astern of the landing area.
A few moments later,I crossed the fantail and snagged the target three wire. I automatically ran the throttles up to the firewall before I felt the reassuring tug of the harness straps as the arresting wire hauled my jet to a stop.
Following the directions of the yellow- shirted flight director in front of me, I picked up the hook, folded the wings, and taxied to my assigned parking spot on the bow. I shut down the engines and popped the canopy just in time to hear two bell tones over the 5MC announcing circuit on the flight deck.
“Lieutenant Junior Grade Spencer, Plankowner, arriving.” I looked over the canopy rail to see AM3 Moore below me barely holding back a laugh, and looked over and across to my just-landed roommate, LTjg Zach “Morris” Joseph not even trying to suppress his laughter. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to live that one down, but at least now my old friends and colleagues aboard knew I was here.
The ship plowed through the clear waters off Southern California as the rest of the air wing came aboard for the start of our 2009 surge deployment to the western Pacific. Nothing like spending a summer out to sea, bouncing around the Pacific rim and partying in a dozen foreign countries. Was there any easier way to make a paycheck as a pilot?