Somewhere in the Pacific - Waking up was a bit harder this morning, and the intense waves that were rocking the massive floating city, better known as the USS Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier, were still at it slowly but rather steeply sending the ship side to side. Today was going to be a slower day, especially after all the excitement of the previous day's Airshow at sea. Today would mostly include more tours of the ship, viewing more of the flight deck, continuing to fill out my TQS (Tiger Qualification Standards) packet, and some night entertainment. Before all of that could get started, however, I would still have to get up... which with the rocking ship and getting to sleep a bit later than the previous day, it was all too easy to just go back to sleep in the darkened berthing area even with reveille at 0600 and the various alarms going off and then being silenced. While sleep did sound nice, the idea of getting started on another day of fun aboard the carrier was enough to get me to slowly get up and get myself ready for the day. Breakfast wasn't really going to be an option today, which was okay as I knew I'd be eating a lot for lunch. Instead, there was going to be a pretty awesome ceremony that I was going to be able to witness firsthand.
After myself and the rest of those in the security berthing area had gotten ready for the day, we all went up to the hangar deck and assembled. After the rush of yesterday's airshow, there weren't as many people out walking around, Tiger or Navy, in the hangar deck this morning. But all the security forces had gathered in a neat formation for a special ceremony. The large blow up screen from the previous night's karaoke night was still in place for tonight's movie night, and those that were walking about the hangar deck paused for a moment in curiosity at the ceremony taking place. The elevator bays were all closed, which was very peculiar as they had been opened each day when we'd visit the hangar deck. Turning back to the ceremony at hand, special awards were being given out to three members of the security forces, including my sponsor and close friend. After a lot of hard work and studying, he was going to receive his wings, which is the Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist insignia wings. The wings are earned by 'learning and demonstrating proficiency in Combat Missions involving the Airwing and Ship.' This means basically researching flight deck, ordinance, and aircraft capabilities along with how each function together in an environment aboard the Carrier. After completing two Enlisted Aviation Personal Qualification Standards (PQS), a written exam, and review board finally then the wings are earned. The other two personnel were earning their Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist insignia wings. With the honor and Naval precision you always see in the movies, the award ceremony was carried out with each of the four sailors receiving their wings having their names read out loud along with their accomplishments that entitled them to their wings, and finally having their wings pinned on by the Master Chief of the department and a round of applause from the gathered at-attention security force. The ceremony itself didn't take that long to happen, but it was another great military tradition to observe, and concluded just in time for the wettest part of the day.
Over the 1MC, an all call went out for all Tigers to report immediately to the flight deck for the annual 'Tiger Photo.' After grabbing jackets and my camera, we headed up to the flight deck and upon opening one of the hatches under the tower leading out onto the flight deck we were met with a sudden wall of chilly moist air. The weather had changed dramatically from the rather warm sunny day that we had yesterday for the airshow, and now dark rainy clouds hung in all directions which with the wind was clearly the culprit for the very swaying ship and the closed elevator bay doors. The ground on the flight deck was still a bit wet, showing signs of having rained overnight into the morning. A MH-60S Seahawk from HSC-12 'Golden Falcons' was already in what had to of been quite turbulent skies making a few passes overhead with a Navy photographer onboard. With a pause in the rain and only some light misting going on, it was time to get all the Tigers together for the big group shot. Several calls went out throughout the ship for all Tigers to be on the flight deck, and all non essential personnel to leave the flight deck so they would not be in the photo, and any Tiger sponsors who would like to stand with their Tigers could stay. The director of the photo, probably someone from the ship's PR department, started to get all the tigers to stand together and was taking a few at a time via a large megaphone and having them stand in some sort of formation. At first I wasn't sure what we were making, then I was told that we were spelling out the word 'TIGER.' People were shivering and in heavy jackets as the cold air nipped at them. Knowing this, they were trying as best as possible to get everyone into position with an even amount of people spelling out the letters. There were enough people, sponsors and Tigers, to make most of the letters double thick. I will say, once again the Navy was quite good at getting everyone to where they needed to be.
Once the last few late comers to the photo call had been placed into the TIGER letters, it was time for the actual photo to be taken. The MH-60S Seahawk that had been flying around and helping coordinate the placement of the letters finally climbed up to a high vantage point and matched the speed of the Carrier as if to hover just above us. Over the megaphone, the personnel who had been directing everyone's placement instructed the large crowd to initially stand face the helicopter with their arms to their sides. I snapped a few shots with my camera of the crowds and the Seahawk overhead, and then put my camera down so hopefully my face would be seen. After a half minute of standing looking up at the helicopter, the loud voice over the megaphone filled the air again asking everyone to wave up at the Seahawk for the final set of photos. Everyone lifted their hands and waved up at the Seahawk. I had been placed at the top of the E in the TIGER word, and had no one in front of me. I made a mental note of the outfit colors of the people next to me for later when I'd see the photo. After the last few waves from the crowd, the Seahawk banked away and all Tigers were excused from the photo, which could not have been a better time as the rain started to come down and people scrambled to get back below deck. With lines of people trying to get onto the catwalks or through the various hatches on the tower island to get inside, I took a moment to get some shots of the aircraft sitting out on the flight deck with the dark brooding weather behind them. The lighting was excellent on the overcast colored (or lack there of) aircraft, with those that did have color standing out quite brilliantly. This didn't last too long, however, as the rain started to get a bit worse and the announcement went out that anyone without a float vest was not allowed on the flight deck because of the heavy winds and now rain. The lines to get back inside grew a little longer as the rain started to come down, but eventually we made it inside.
Heading back inside the ship from the cold rain, we headed back down to the hangar bay where a display had been set up of the small arms and tripod mounted weapons that are on board the ship. Verbal demonstrations of how the weapons work (without live ammunition of course) and being able to handle the weapons made for this display demonstration suddenly get quite crowded. All sorts of different types of weapons from a smaller rifles, shotguns, and M-16s to the largest weapon, a .50 Caliber Machine Gun, were laid out on a table. The sailors on hand were answering questions about the weapons and helping the Tigers (and some other sailors) pick up the weapons and feel the weight in their hands. I held a few of them and spent some time checking out the .50 cal machine gun as not too much as changed on them since World War 2 usage and design. Fact sheets for the weapons sat nearby giving statistics and interesting tidbits of info on what we were looking at. It didn't take long for a rather big line to form to see the weapons, making us thankful we'd gotten there early. Soon after, the call for lunch went out and it was time to head into the mess hall for another delicious meal that was better than most dinner meals I have at buffet restaurants. Unfortunately, as required by duties as part of the security forces, we headed back down to the main security office for what would be a very long Spot Check training on a machine. These processes are crucial to maintain the functionality of all the machines and devices on board, which could be needed in time of disaster or other events. Spot Checks are basically very detailed and complex overhaul checks of these devices that go down to the build and appearance of the devices. Imagine taking your cell phone and laying it out on a table and doing a 100 point inspection of the outside, inside, and function of your cell phone. It's a pretty boring process if you're not really involved, but you can understand the importance of making sure devices like these are verified and checked especially in a giant floating ship where disasters can happen.
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