Harrier Carrier: Strike Force for Freedom
Story Number: NNS030324-03
Release Date: 3/24/2003 7:48:00 PM
By Journalist 1st Class Sonya Ansarov, USS Bataan Public Affairs vABOARD USS BATAAN, At Sea (NNS) -- With each roar of the engine and pressing of the throttle, the AV-8B Harrier thrusts itself off the flight deck of USS Bataan (LHD 5). Up until now, it has been for practice in the preparation against the global war on terrorism.
Now, it's for real. Operation Iraqi Freedom has commenced, and Bataan plays a major role as a strike force for freedom.
The multipurpose amphibious assault ship usually carries a mixture of helicopters and Harriers, but for this mission, it has been designated a "Harrier carrier."
"This is different from a regular mission - this is a straight stick of having a full deck of Harriers here for a single purpose. That purpose is to get the Harriers with ordnance to the place needed, when needed," said Bataan's Commanding Officer, Capt. E. S. Yerger. "We are here to support our Marines on the ground. Being a Harrier carrier is in direct support of their safety by providing vital air support to the troops.
"This is the second time a large deck amphibious ship has been a Harrier carrier," Yerger continued, "but it's also a first because we have more Harriers and are launching more strikes than ever before."
Having strictly Harriers aboard is a first for Bataan, but the crew is stepping up to do the job they were trained to do.
"I think it's a good idea to be a Harrier carrier, because sometimes it's hard to mix jets and helos. Now we can focus solely on the Harriers, and it makes flight operations more efficient," said Air Traffic Controller 2nd Class (AW/SW) Aurora Selby. "We are taking on the full responsibility of controlling the Harriers now that we only have them on board. If we had helos and Harriers, the Harriers would be controlled by the tactical air control center, not us. Taking on this responsibility is making us sharper and better at our jobs."
Staying sharp and getting the Harriers off the deck and ready to strike is a crucial part of Bataan's mission.
"Before, our job was to get the Marines ashore for the fight, and now our job is to bring the support, close air support, to the Marines on the ground in the fight," said Marine Maj. Michael Manzer Jr., air operations officer. "I'm planning out our deck cycle to launch waves of several Harriers at a time, which has not been done before. It's like an orchestra. Everyone has their part to play at a certain time, and when it all comes together, it's beautiful music."
Bataan's role has greatly increased compared to its last deployment.
"In Afghanistan, we offloaded our Marines and then our operational tempo decreased. Now, we've offloaded our Marines, and we are filling up our fly window launching and recovering Harriers almost everyday," said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Devereux, air traffic control division officer. "I'm excited that our role is bigger than last deployment."
Bataan's mission is bigger, faster, more challenging and making history.
"This is the first time a ship of this class has carried so many Harriers, and it's been a real challenge for the flight deck crew. We are performing bigger sequences of launching and recovering Harriers than ever before," said Lt. Larry Young, aircraft handling officer. "Everything happens so quickly on the flight deck, and the number of sorties that we are putting out in one day are just phenomenal. I have never seen so many people work so hard on a flight deck before."
That hard work is apparent from the flight deck crew to maintenance personnel, to air operations planning, to the pilots. It takes everyone working as a team to bring the Harrier carrier to life.
"The flight deck is very busy. We are moving planes, chocking and chaining, and getting the aircraft where they need to be," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handler) Airman Kelly Fazzini. "It makes me feel good knowing that I'm helping the Harriers get where they need to be for their mission. The flight deck crew gets the job done as fast and as safe as possible."
Since Bataan deployed on short notice without any workups for this mission, every day is a learning experience.
"Once you get into the groove of it, no matter who you are - a pilot, flight deck crew, or the air boss, it's going to work out, and the plan we have in place will come together. The goal is obtainable," said Marine Capt. Toby Buchan, VMA-542 Harrier pilot. "Since this level of Harrier carrier has not been done before, it will prove the diversity of the large deck amphibious ships.
"This ship went from carrying a Marine Expeditionary Unit to becoming a Harrier carrier on the same cruise. We are finally utilizing the ship and Harriers to their full potential," Buchan continued. "It's a dynamic evolution for us to be able to bring a punch to the fight and supply around the clock coverage for our Marines on the ground."
And that's exactly what Bataan is doing, proving that the Harrier carrier is a strong fighting force for the mission at hand.
The ship and embarked Marines are components of Commander Task Force 51. The ship and crew left its home port of Norfolk, Va., in January for an unscheduled deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is the ship's third deployment since its commissioning in September 1997.
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