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Seaman John McMasters, front, and Seaman Jussip Hansen, both aviation ordnancemen, move a Phoenix missile Thursday. It was a busy day for the sailors known as mag rats, moving several missiles and bombs to the flight deck on the USS Kitty Hawk. Carrier Air Wing 5 flew 35 daytime sorties and 56 nighttime sorties, 42 of which were strike sorties on Iraq. The air wing dropped 37 bombs Thursday.

Seaman John McMasters, front, and Seaman Jussip Hansen, both aviation ordnancemen, move a Phoenix missile Thursday. It was a busy day for the sailors known as mag rats, moving several missiles and bombs to the flight deck on the USS Kitty Hawk. Carrier Air Wing 5 flew 35 daytime sorties and 56 nighttime sorties, 42 of which were strike sorties on Iraq. The air wing dropped 37 bombs Thursday. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

Seaman John McMasters, front, and Seaman Jussip Hansen, both aviation ordnancemen, move a Phoenix missile Thursday. It was a busy day for the sailors known as mag rats, moving several missiles and bombs to the flight deck on the USS Kitty Hawk. Carrier Air Wing 5 flew 35 daytime sorties and 56 nighttime sorties, 42 of which were strike sorties on Iraq. The air wing dropped 37 bombs Thursday.

Seaman John McMasters, front, and Seaman Jussip Hansen, both aviation ordnancemen, move a Phoenix missile Thursday. It was a busy day for the sailors known as mag rats, moving several missiles and bombs to the flight deck on the USS Kitty Hawk. Carrier Air Wing 5 flew 35 daytime sorties and 56 nighttime sorties, 42 of which were strike sorties on Iraq. The air wing dropped 37 bombs Thursday. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

Aviation ordnancemen load a precision-guided bomb on an F/A-18 Hornet on Thursday on the USS Kitty Hawk. Carrier Air Wing 5 flew 35 daytime sorties and 56 nighttime sorties, 42 of which were strike sorties on Iraq. The air wing dropped 37 bombs Thursday.

Aviation ordnancemen load a precision-guided bomb on an F/A-18 Hornet on Thursday on the USS Kitty Hawk. Carrier Air Wing 5 flew 35 daytime sorties and 56 nighttime sorties, 42 of which were strike sorties on Iraq. The air wing dropped 37 bombs Thursday. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

ABOARD USS KITTY HAWK — Seaman Adam Gee sweats bullets while working with 1,000-pound bombs on the USS Kitty Hawk’s flight deck.

Gee is among a few hundred aviation ordnancemen lifting some heavy loads at a faster pace since bombs started dropping on Baghdad on Thursday morning.

Also on Thursday, Kitty Hawk pilots flew 26 sorties, dropping 37 laser-guided or GPS-guided bombs, said Lt. j.g. Nicole Kratzer, spokeswoman for Carrier Air Wing 5, based at Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan.

Half of those missions were part of Operation Southern Watch, while others were in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

To those aboard the Yokosuka, Japan-based carrier, there’s not much difference.

“There really was no change for us, it was a seamless transition,” Kratzer said.

The past few days have been demanding for the aviation ordnancemen, also known as red shirts or ordies.

In addition to the bomb’s sheer weight, about 150 ordnancemen must battle blasts of jet exhaust on the flight deck while moving ordnance, or arming and de-arming missiles. About 250 more red shirts work for the weapons department, assembling the weapons and pushing them through mess decks and other areas to get them to the flight deck.

Tony Moore, 34, is the leading chief petty officer for the air wing’s ordnance division. Various squadrons’ red shirts go through his office to coordinate what will be loaded on the aircraft. Moore’s division also oversees the arm and de-arm team.

The team loads and arms about 100 bombs and 40 missiles a day.

His division also has the final say on whether a bomb is ready to go. In the last minute before a plane blasts off the flight deck, arm team members turn a missile’s rocket motor keys and pull its safety pins to arm it.

About once a week, the team gives a thumbs-down for a launch because of a problem, Moore said. On Thursday night, it stopped an F/A-18 Hornet launch when the red shirts discovered the ordnance wasn’t seated properly on the rail.

“Before arming them, our guys look them over, make sure they’re good to go,” Moore said. “You don’t have time to troubleshoot; it’s either go or no-go.”

While the arm team makes the final decision on a bomb’s safety, there are another 80 sailors far below the flight deck who start preparing the fireworks.

“They call us mag\[azine\] rats for a reason,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard Cardwell, 21, joking with fellow sailors about the lack of daylight they see.

Many of those red shirts have pulled 18-hour shifts this week to fulfill the latest order, said Lt. Cmdr. Bob Mercer, ordnance handling officer.

“Since we’re not seen, people don’t know that much about us,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Millard Charles, 21. “We actually play a part helping our country.”

After the ordnance makes its way to the flight deck, the mag rats move on to the next bomb or missile.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Tweedy said that every time a bomb makes its way to the elevators, he thinks about where it could end up.

“I know what it’s going to do,” said Tweedy, 20. “It’s a thought in the back of my mind but it’s in and out quick.”

Airman Shawn Palmblad, 20, was a bit more blunt.

“You don’t join the Navy to drop flowers on someone.”

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