News: From across the pond
USS KEARSARGE, At Sea - The flight deck aboard a U.S. Navy ship is a busy place. During one of my first days aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), I made my way up to flight deck triage just beside the flight deck. As I got closer I heard helicopters, Ospreys and Harriers as they took off and landed and the voices of sailors and Marines as they as they discussed their work. But, as I stood there listening, the voices of two sailors in particular stood out.
They were dressed like all the other sailors who were bustling about, carrying out the work of the day, but they began to banter back and forth about growing out their sideburns and beards. This, of course, would be “out of regs” for any American sailor, but these two sailors, who were working and living aboard Kearsarge, were not part of the United States Navy.
Their British accent was distinct and I soon learned they were, in fact, sailors from the British Royal Navy. They are attached to Kearsarge as part of the Long Lead Specialist Skills (LLSS) program and will be working with Kearsarge sailors for the next eight to nine months.
“We’ve been very welcomed,” said Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer (Aircraft Handler) Scott Iszard. “People want to talk to you and find out what you’re doing here. I think that will wear off, but there are days where you see people you haven’t seen before. We’ve enjoyed our time here so far.”
After talking to them, I discovered that aside from the three British sailors on board Kearsarge, there are five more of them aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). They are the first group to participate in LLSS, a program scheduled to last seven to eight years as sailors from the Royal Navy come and work on American ships to learn how the U.S. manages a large floating airport.
The three sailors have over 40 years of Royal Navy carrier flight deck experience between them. As the British Royal Navy prepares to commission two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, the sailors who will work aboard them need experience working on a larger flight deck. That’s where the LLSS program comes in.
“It’s been a big eye opener to see how things are run differently: routines, manpower, general quarters, battle stations,” said Leading Airman (Aircraft Handler) Damian George. “It’s a lot more to take in than I expected. There’s a lot more people and a lot more spaces, but it’s fun. It’s enjoyable.”
A sailor new to Kearsarge must complete certain personnel qualification standards (PQS) before he or she is allowed to work on the flight deck. George, Iszard and Leading Airman (Aircraft Handler) Wayne Bowring had to complete the same qualifications before they were allowed to perform their jobs at the level to which they are accustomed. Due to their past experience, they were able to complete these qualifications quickly.
“Just trying to get used to the way another group of handlers do their job on a different type of flight deck with different types of aircraft is not easy,” said George. “Trying to get your head around how their routines are different and the working hours - it’s all totally different.”
The three sailors were asked by Fleet (their command) to come to the States after being selected. Iszard said that he expects the program to be an excellent experience. After working on British carriers for the last 17 years, it will also be good to see how the U.S. Navy operates a larger flight deck.
He said this should also be a good move for his career, especially since the future of the Royal Navy will rest on the new, larger aircraft carriers.
“What I’m hoping to achieve on board USS Kearsarge is to take all of the good things that I’ve learned from your way of operating your flight deck and all the stuff that we do and put both together, so that when we go back and start writing SOPs (standard operating procedures) for the new carrier, we can mix them both together,” said Iszard.
And while the living and working conditions are quite different from those on a British ship, as Bowring noted the absence of alcoholic beverages and longer working hours on American ships, they are excited to be here.
“I feel really good about being here because it’s a completely different challenge for me,” said Bowring. “I am looking forward to the next eight months.”
The U.S. Navy is truly a melting pot with sailors from many different backgrounds, countries, ethnicities and religions, so embracing sailors from the Royal Navy wasn’t difficult. Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Josh Lyman described the British sailors’ personalities as “bubbly.”
“Their terminology is hilarious, so having them joke around in between flight quarters is a blast because they bring something new to the table every day,” said Lyman.
The feeling expressed by Lyman seems to be mutual. Each of the British sailors said they have received a warm welcome.
“They (Kearsarge’s crew) are a great bunch of people,” said George. “They’ve really welcomed the three of us in. Nobody’s said a cross word to us and I think they’re welcoming because we’re something new, something different. We’ve come with fresh opinions, fresh ideas and a fresh set of eyes on a lot of things, and I think that most of them will listen to our opinions and they’ll take them on board.”
Iszard, Bowring and George said they are planning to make the best of this experience and learn as much as they can. They also want to fully integrate with the crew and share their vast experience and ideas.
“They’ll bring you in, tell you what they know and they’re quick to ask questions if they don’t understand something or if they’re confused about something,” said Lyman. “They’re straight forward and they’ll ask you.”
Meeting and getting to know the myriad sailors aboard can be one of the best parts about being under way. During long deployments the crew becomes a type of family and relies on each other not only in their jobs but also in their day-to-day lives.
“If you come on board and get involved, get out there, enjoy the flight deck and do what you’re here to do, then nine months will go like that and we’ll be on an Osprey out of here,” said George. “We’re looking forward to sailing back across the pond.”