West 2018 is being held at the San Diego Convention Center Feb. 6-8. This conference, now in its 28th year, brings military, industry and academia leaders together to discuss information warfare, integrated warfare, near-peer challenges, and associated creative and agile solutions. WEST is co-sponsored by Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) International and the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI).
Story by PO3 Gitte Schirrmacher on 01/31/2018
Ford conducted its first fixed-wing night operations on the flight deck Oct. 5, 2017, during Independent Steaming Exercise (ISE) 2. This evolution was one of many training exercises in preparation for flight deck certification next month.
"A lot of the flight deck crew hadn't experienced night ops before," said James Bibb, an aircraft mechanic collateral duty inspector with the "Salty Dogs" of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23. "This was their first time getting to experience night ops and see how it works and the dangers of it."
"For somebody who doesn't do it on an everyday basis, it's pretty scary," said Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Edwin Mangona, one of Ford's flight deck chiefs. "There are no walls, but you don't see anything around you. It's pitch black. You're relying on the lights of the island and the lights we carry out with us. It gets pretty intense and to this day I still get nervous."
There are some areas on the flight deck that have no light at all, said Mangona. Many safety precautions, such as the buddy system, emergency floatation devices, and specific flashlights, are used to keep Sailors safe on the flight deck.
"It's not that different from day [operations] other than the fact that it's really dark and you have to watch where you put your feet," said Aviation Electrician's Mate 1st Class Nickolas Williams, assigned to the "Salty Dogs" of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23. "It's pretty easy to trip over chains and eat nonskid. I've done that before."
Regardless of the difficulty of working a dangerous job in a low light situation, the crew of VX-23 said they were impressed that it went so smoothly.
"Just like any carrier, our mission objective is to be able to give air support," said Mangona. "For us to be able to give air support 24/7. There are a lot of people who think that because we can operate at night, it gives us more of an advantage wherever protection is needed. There is no certain time we can't protect. When we are in country and give our troops on the ground protection, we're 24/7."
To be able to conduct flight operations at night shows our abilities, said Mangona.
"I've been doing this for 18 years and I feel proud with the crew that I have here," said Mangona. "We all came from building a scratch crew together. I'm proud to be here. It gives me the warm fuzzies to know that no matter where everybody else goes, we'll be able to operate."