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Flight deck personnel practice firefighting drills on the USS Kitty Hawk as part of a ship-wide, two-day preparation to go underway. The different colors represent different jobs, and that's a firehose they're lugging toward an F-14.
Flight deck personnel practice firefighting drills on the USS Kitty Hawk as part of a ship-wide, two-day preparation to go underway. The different colors represent different jobs, and that's a firehose they're lugging toward an F-14. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK, Japan — The voice of Cmdr. Ed Wolfe, the air boss, boomed over the loudspeakers from the flight control deck: “Put yourself at sea. Helmet on, goggles lowered, sleeves down.”

Groups of Navy airmen sprinted across the flight deck during a jet crash drill, remembering first to get out of the way of a crashing jet, then practicing dousing jet fires and rescuing pilots.

As the aircraft carrier prepares to go to sea after five months of maintenance, the roughly 3,000 sailors aboard the USS Kitty Hawk quickly must renew all the skills that keep the massive ship and chaotic flight deck running.

Crewmembers had a lock-down Thursday and Friday – they had to stay aboard ship – for a “fast cruise,” an in-port “voyage” that gives sailors a refresher and shows ship officials they’re ready to return to sea.

The ship sat still but the at-sea operations were tested.

Lt. Tom Edgeworth and his sailors have some of the most dangerous jobs on deck: being responsible for the arresting gear that stops jets.

Practicing safety is paramount, he said, and sailors need a few days to get back in the swing. “We’ve been out of the game for five months,” he said. “You’ve got to get your mindset back to sea.”

Meanwhile, several hundred new sailors have been assigned to the ship since it came to port; they need to learn the ropes.

“I’m still adjusting,” said Seaman Apprentice Roger Lewis, who has been on the ship for about a week.

It’s his first duty station, and the first time the 6-foot-2-inch sailor slept in the rack, or bed – which is 6 feet long and has, on average, 18 inches of headroom. He hit his head a few times so far, he said.

It’s also the first time he’s seen a carrier in person – especially on the mighty Battle Cat.

“I walked on for the first time and I couldn’t believe it,” he said of the ship whose flight deck stretches more than four acres.

The carrier spent the past five months being refurbished by Yokosuka’s Ship Repair Facility, the ship’s crew and Japanese contractors.

Now it boasts new floors, plenty of fresh paint and a few new features, including an improved steam system in the engineering department, some updated electronics systems and 1,000 new racks.

During the maintenance period, which spanned the summer’s hottest weeks, the crew worked long hours on jobs that often were tough and tedious.

“I’d rather be out to sea,” said Airman Suli Filivao, an aviation boatswains mate with the crash and salvage division. “I kind of get tired of being here. It’s the same view every day.”

“I just like hitting the ports,” said Navy Airman Robert Goodman, an aviation boatswains mate handler.

After months of scraping, painting and cleaning, others are looking forward to getting back to their normal underway jobs.

“I prefer to be at sea operating,” said Edgeworth. “You do what you’re trained to do out there.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Diego Calderon, an information systems technician with Combat Systems, said that for him, being at sea means more time working on electronics and less time spent painting.

The refurbishing and repairs did make a difference, though. The 30-year-old ship is looking newer than it has in a while.

“It’s an old ship,” Edgeworth said. “In the last few months there have been drastic improvements. Not just in my division, in the whole ship.”

Goodman said the brighter, cleaner ship is a treat.

“But it’ll get dirty again soon,” he said.

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