Before Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) Airman (SW) Vanessa Satchwell even hits the deck that morning, she’s made sure the fuel is clean, clear and bright. After the station is flushed and tanks cleaned, fuel samples come to her in the lab and she tests for water, sediment, flashpoint, and to make sure the levels are right to ensure the fueling system won’t ice over at the required elevation of the aircraft.
She and the other Sailors on the flight deck have safety equipment staged and are wearing their proper protective equipment. As she and the other ABF fuel 05 so it can take off and hit the beach on time, she said she knows that when it’s time for flight quarters, she’s got to be ready.
“I know my job is important, but everybody’s job is important and I hope everybody knows that,” Satchwell said. “Everybody’s job, however small, plays a role in us working as a team and getting the job done. At one point somebody’s job might be more important at that point in time… but that doesn’t take away from operations because they’re in the background.”
Marines board the first set of MV-22 Ospreys. Chocks and chains are removed. The aircraft lifts off the deck, the blades visible with the flashes between them in the darkness as the blades rotate.
Marines fill the passageway near the exit to the flight deck. Their gunnery sergeants call off muster reports, with each yelling his or her name back for confirmation.
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class (FMF) Elliott Johns waits with his gear, mentally preparing to do security patrol during the missions that day.
As a Hospital Corpsman within a unit of Marines, Johns is the only medical provider available should something go wrong.
“I’m directly responsible for 20 or so Marines, whose healthcare is under my supervision,” Johns said. “Attention to detail is always real important, and studying not only for advancement but for our own knowledge… so your Marines and Sailors stay safe and healthy.”
Johns is wearing his helmet with night vision attachment, flack jacket weighing approximately 35 pounds, two bags, each anywhere from 50 to 85 pounds, not counting ammunition or his rifle. He packed everything the night before, so all he had to do was shave to be mission-ready.
Operations Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Scott Welch is in combat systems, maintaining connections between the multiple ships engaged in the exercise.
The space is dark, but the blue light from his computer illuminates his face, along with the blinking red and orange lights from the consoles surrounding him and his green keyboard. Various alarms and communications are always coming in, it’s his job to make sure they keep coming.
“I’m responsible for the LINK picture, connecting all the ships’ data together, collecting it, compiling it,” Welch said. “So we see what the other ships are seeing, and they can see what we’re seeing, so everyone’s more aware of what’s going around us.”
As part of his checklist for doing his job well, he’s constantly checking to make sure the ship maintains good communication with other ships, and equipment is working properly.
Welch has the midnight to 7 a.m. watch. It’s almost time for him to hit his rack to get some sleep before returning for his next watch shift at noon.
“I don’t disrespect other rates because they don’t do the same thing I do,” Welch said “I realize that everyone’s doing their own thing but that it comes together as one big ship.”
The well deck is blurry with movement and cacophonous as whistles alert Marines and Sailors to vehicles coming down and up the ramps. It’s real-life Tetris as AAVs and Humvees are all moved and arranged into neat rows, fitting into one another like tessellations within the landing craft air cushion (LCAC). As the LCAC rises, the sun has started to rise, and the sky turns a soft purple. The LCAC disappears into the mist it’s created, while another empty LCAC waits for the green light to enter the well deck.
By barely 8 a.m. and Sailors and Marines aboard Mesa Verde have performed every element of being an amphibious assault ship, proving both their capability and versatility to complement and execute missions for both the Navy and Marine Corps.
Every day, each rate, individual Sailor and Marine is a cog in the gears that helps propel the ship, and the overall mission, forward.