PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The flight deck was quiet - unusual for what typically goes on there. Then, without much warning, there it was. An AV-8B Harrier was hovering in the near distance waiting to make its mark into the history books of the Navy's newest amphibious assault ship.
Harriers arrived aboard USS America (LHA 6) for the first time this week while underway off the coast of San Diego. The arrival of the Harriers marks a significant step for America in becoming fully certified in air operations.
The overall mission of the Harriers is to provide offensive air support to the Marines. Marines are able to provide this support due to their ability to attack and destroy surface and air targets, escort helicopters and conduct other air operations as directed.
Afloat Training Group (ATG) was present for the first day of Harrier operations and provided feedback for the air crew on board.
"They observed the crew in action, made some minor suggestions, and recommended to SURFPAC [Surface Forces Pacific Fleet] that America be certified for fixed wing operations, and SURFPAC gave the thumbs up the following morning," said Cmdr. Brian Fitzpatrick, air boss of America. "Combine that with our previous tilt-rotor and rotary wing certification, we are fully certified."
With the arrival of Harriers, there was increased pressure in the week leading to the certification. The leaders of air department recognized it and made sure their junior Sailors were prepared and comfortable for the evolution.
"I told them nothing has changed," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Lawrence Salalila, V-3 division leading petty officer. "Just relax, you've done this before through your qualifications earned in Yuma (Arizona) and on the USS Pelielu, just apply what you've learned onto the flight deck and nothing can go wrong."
The air department aboard America received vital training from the Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 311 "Tomcats" at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona. The airfield is painted in the design of a ship to prepare service members with an exact representation of what they will see in their own work environments. The training is designed to provide various situations for the handlers on the flight deck.
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Andrew Roseberry said he was elated to have the opportunity to handle Harriers and apply what he had learned through his training.
"I was very confident with my skills in how to operate and direct them," said Roseberry. "It was a good feeling to finally get a fixed wing aircraft on our flight deck. It was a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to continuing to do it."
By becoming fully certified in all air operations, America was able to let marine expeditionary units certify their aircraft for upcoming deployments.
Capt. Robert A. Hall Jr., commanding officer of USS America, highlighted the accomplishments of the America crew on the last day of Harrier operations and made a ship-wide announcement.
"I could not be more proud of what this crew has done over these past few days," said Hall. "Senior Navy and Marine Corps leadership have both already reached out to me and expressed their gratitude. It is definitely recognized, at the highest level, that our Sailors have gone over and above to really support the Blue-Green team, which is really what our mission is. Your work and dedication to your country helps the Marines who are preparing for deployments and various missions right around the corner."
A professional work environment is a standard for any work place, and America is no exception. Maintaining professionalism on the flight deck is extremely vital for the safety of the personnel operating in this high-risk environment.
Capt. Brayden Cummins, a pilot assigned to VMA-311, spoke about the pride and professionalism that Sailors aboard America showed throughout the week.
"They're very professional Sailors on board," said Cummins. "They know what they are doing, and they've been trained very well."
With America being fully certified in all air operations combined with their training and experience, they will be ready for any and all challenges that lie ahead.