Life in the “Danger Zone”

Life in the “Danger Zone”

Anyone who knows me knows that my early life was defined by a desire to be a naval aviator and astronaut. Top Gun came out in theaters in my senior year of high school. So reading this description of life on board the USS Harry S Truman as it combats ISIS is a great moment of reflection for me. And sobering to realize that even I'd become a Navy pilot, I'd almost certainly be retired from the Navy by now.

While wandering the Truman, seeing so many young people hanging out in small groups, it sometimes seems a bit like high school. People move through hallways, meet up with friends at the lunchroom and respect a fierce hierarchy. Though there aren’t many classrooms on board, there are people studying in all the relatively quiet corners of the ship, preparing for exams that will help them net promotions. The first people I saw on board – waiting in the ATO shack, fresh off of their flight to the ship – were implausibly young-looking Americans in civilian clothes. I actually asked an officer standing nearby why there were young family members on board. He chuckled and informed me that these were new sailors just beginning their service on the Truman. They were under orders to wear civilian clothes while traveling to the Middle East.

  • On the first aircraft carrier I was attached to a squadron on, I worked with this one First Class who was a classic nerd. Masters in electrical engineering, HP calculator, socially awkward and very odd. One day though he said the reason he came into the Navy instead of perusing his career was that a carrier was the closet thing to being on a space ship. We all laughed at this, but I came to realize he was exactly right. As bad as the family separations were, it was an amazing experience to working on four different carriers. The atmosphere is odd, but compelling to a SF geek and working in the field of avionics where I got to troubleshoot down to the component level even more so (before the days when you just replace the board).

    Plus night ops just never got tiring. Going up on the ship’s island to what is called Vulture’s Row to watch the jets crank afterburner and being catapulted to launch is just so cool.

    • That’s my big regret about not completing NROTC. But I guess that wasn’t my path in life.