By Navy Seaman Jessica Gomez
USS George Washington
AT SEA, SOUTH OF JAPAN, May 27, 2015 – After sunset, the Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington steams on into the night. All the while, the movement of aircraft never stops and aviation boatswain's mates (handling), or "ABH" night-check crew, make this possible.
All ABHs wear yellow or blue shirts to indicate their responsibilities. As the day winds down, the ABH night shift "yellow shirts" and "blue shirts" are ready to start their day and work until the job is done.
All hangar bay ABHs start out wearing blue jerseys, holding the “chock and chain” position of securing aircraft to the deck. Upon completion of various qualifications that include fire watch, tractor driver, elevator operator and "hot suitman," an ABH will earn a yellow jersey and become an aircraft director.
"At night, hangar bay [sailors] conduct movement operations for aircraft, and more importantly, the maintenance we provide for the squadrons," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Terrell Jones, an aviation boatswain's mate and hangar bay chief on the George Washington. "The most challenging part is not being able to accommodate every squadron, every night. We want to make sure everyone gets a fair share of maintenance and attention, but sometimes there's just not enough time."
ABHs are constantly in dangerous situations, and inclement weather can make the job of hangar bay night workers even more challenging.
"Being on the [aircraft] elevators is a very dangerous part of the job," said Navy Airman Elijah Vann, an aviation boatswain's mate from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "You can't see anything. It's dark, raining and foggy, and sometimes waves can reach us on the elevator."
The night crew may not always get recognized for their work because it is usually unseen, but they know that what they do is important to the ship's overall mission.
"The crew works extremely hard, night in and night out, to help with the ship's mission," Jones said. "Their job is just as important as anyone else's, but sometimes it goes unnoticed because it's not seen. I tell my guys they're doing an amazing job, and as long as they know, that's all that matters."
"The daytimers could not run without us," Vann said. "The night-check crews are pure animals. We train the blue shirts, then the yellow shirts get briefed on the movement for the night. We move aircraft all night until the sun comes up, and sometimes even after that."
George Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing 5, are on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.