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Truman sailors keep planes flying in the Arctic Circle

Seaman Kesean Mikell, an airman assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 11, performs an ordnance check on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Oct. 19, 2018. This is the first time in nearly 30 years a U.S. aircraft carrier has entered the Arctic Circle.

THOMAS GOOLEY/U.S. NAVY

By JOSHUA KARSTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 24, 2018

A choppy ocean won’t normally rock a loaded, 100,000-ton aircraft carrier very much.

But the stormy waters of the Norwegian Sea inside the Arctic Circle, where the USS Harry S. Truman has become the first U.S. carrier to train in decades, are keeping the ship rocking and adding rare challenges to flight operations.

The move north comes ahead of the NATO Trident Juncture exercise, which begins Thursday and will include about 50,000 allied servicemembers over the next month. Truman’s arrival last week is also part of the Navy’s push to be less tactically predictable, which means showing up in different places and varying the length of its deployments.

At deck level this week, that means freezing temperatures and winds of 58 mph.

“It’s a lot windier than I’m used to. But, it’s about as cold as the winters are in Michigan,” said Seaman Kodie Rippee, an aircraft handler from Jackson, Mich., according to a Navy statement provided to Stars and Stripes.

Rippee had no complaints about his gear or his workload but added that the wind and rain cause limits on flight cycles and require changing gear frequently.

“Then, of course, there is the rocking,” Rippee said Tuesday. “The ship can move a lot sometimes, which we’re not used to seeing. When you combine that with the wind and jet blast, it can get pretty rough up there.”

“We’ve been training for this, so as a unit we feel comfortable handling aircraft in this weather.”

The weather is a more unusual experience for sailors from warm weather climates, like Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Janis of Silvester, Texas.

“So this weather is kind of a shock to me,” Janis said in a statement. “It’s really, really cold. But luckily, I have plenty of cold weather gear to stay warm.”

Janis also says that he is keeping warm with extra clothing and the biggest struggle is storing the extra gear.

“The disadvantage of the coldness, wetness and the weather, is we have the waves rocking the ship, which on a carrier isn’t normal,” Janis said. “So we have to be extra vigilant while we’re out there, and not get too distracted by the weather conditions. Other than that, the job is the same.”

Truman skipper Capt. Nick Dienna credited his crew’s performance thus far, according to a statement.

“It has been over three decades since carrier aviation has been tested by this environment, and, despite the arduous weather and sea conditions, these men and women are demonstrating this ship can bring a full-spectrum of capabilities to bear anywhere in the world,” Dienna said.

Truman and its attached strike group ships will join the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, USS Mount Whitney, USS Gunston Hall, USS New York and 2,000 Marines from 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit for Trident Juncture.

Combined NATO participants and partner nations Finland and Sweden will bring 250 aircraft, 65 ships and 10,000 combat vehicles to the simulated fight, NATO officials said WEdnesday. Participants will split into two forces and take turns acting as aggressors.

Allies have stated that the exercise is not directed at any country. However, NATO and U.S. forces have focused their efforts in recent years on reassuring nations in Eastern Europe to counter potential Russian aggression, following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

karsten.joshua@stripes.com
Twitter: @joshua_karsten

 

An F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 11, launches from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Oct. 19, 2018. This is the first time in nearly 30 years a U.S. aircraft carrier has entered the Arctic Circle.
THOMAS GOOLEY/U.S. NAVY

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