On Deck: Life on an aircraft carrier

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — For the past few weeks, 10 On Your Side has been taking you inside the U.S. Navy in our series “On Deck: The Navy Experience.”

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We’ve visited guided missile cruisers, the submarine training center, and more.

This week, 10 On Your Side’s Marielena Balouris and photojournalist Kevin Romm are taking you onto an aircraft carrier to get a look at life on one of the Navy’s biggest ships.

Known for size, and the ability to launch and catch fighter jets, aircraft carriers are the centerpieces of Naval force. The magnitude of USS George Washington is impressive: it’s more than 1,000 ft. long and displaces more than 97,000 tons of water.

It can transport about 60 aircraft and close to 5,000 sailors and aviators, whom Capt. Brent Gaut is exceedingly proud of.

“I love working with our sailors,” Gaut said. “There are so many extraordinary young people and old people who have either been in the Navy for a short time, or have dedicated their professional lives to serving our country.”

10 On Your Side spoke with Gaut on the ship’s bridge while fighter pilots were practicing takeoffs and landings on the flight deck below.

Gaut assumed command of the G.W. in June 2021 and led the crew through a difficult time —multiple suicides connected to the ship — while it was in the shipyard.

“For the ship, it’s been very challenging for us,” Gaut said. “Because of some of the tragedy that we endured as a team, and we talk about this all the time … we consider ourselves a team and a family.”

Now, he is guiding the crew through workups as the ship prepares to forward deploy to a new homeport.

“All the carriers are critical to our nation’s and our Navy’s defense,” Gaut said, “but our carrier specifically, you can say, there’s going to be no more important carrier based on what the Navy and the nation is going to ask us to do.”

That’s because the ship’s new homeport will be in Japan.

“If the fight goes down, we need to be ready to answer the call,” he said.

A lot happens onboard to make sure the crew is ready. There are the things you think of: flight ops, aircraft maintenance, operating the ship’s anchor, and driving the ship.

There are also things you might not think of, but are also essential to keep the warship floating for months on end. That includes trash disposal, coordinating logistics to feed the thousands onboard, and stocking the gyms with equipment so sailors have a physical and mental outlet.

When it comes to physical health, carriers are well prepared to take care of sailors.

Virginia Beach native Lt. Byron Barbour is a physical therapist onboard USS George Washington.

“To be able to complete rehab, to manage muscle-skeletal injury, and still go trap and launch aircraft in the same day is very beneficial to us,” Barbour said.

He served in the Marine Corps for five years and joined the Navy about six years ago.

For being on a ship, the medical unit is comprehensive. There’s an X-ray room, an intensive care unit, an operating room, a lab and more.

“Blood work, any kind of viral panels or anything like that, we can all test for that in here, including COVID,” he said.

But even in the medical unit, life on a carrier never truly stops.

10 On Your Side’s series “On Deck: The Navy Experience” continues next week with a one-on-one interview with the Air Boss about flight ops and the importance of training at-sea. Don’t miss Marielena Balouris’ special report on WAVY News 10 at 6.

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