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Focus on Service

IKE Female Cat Team

Getting the job done

Inherently dangerous and what can be best described as organized chaos, the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is no place for the faint of heart.

Among the brave service members who operate on the flight deck, the women of Air department's V-2 division are manned and ready to launch aircraft off of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) as an all-female catapult crew.

As aviation boatswain's mates (equipment) (ABEs), they are responsible for maintaining and operating the systems that launch multi-million dollar aircraft off the flight deck. In this profession, where those beside them are predominantly male, these women have proven they are just as capable of doing the difficult and demanding work as their male counterparts.

"Working in this rate is actually pretty amazing," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) Airman Tanya Funez.

Being dirty and greasy most of the time doesn't bother me. I can do what any other male can do, and an all-female cat crew basically just proves there's a lot more females out there who can pull their own weight on the flight deck." -ABEAN Tanya Funez
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Spela Marinsek said that the job is not just a dirty one, it's also one of the most dangerous on the ship.

It is scary at times. You always have to keep your head on a swivel. A motto every ABE lives by. It only takes a split second for you or someone else to get hurt." -ABE2 Spela Marinsek
photo collage of female aviation boatswain's mates working on the flight deck

As a result of working together through the dangerous, yet organized, chaos, ABEs become like family members to each other, men and women alike.

"They are our sisters and brothers, and we all have a job to do," Marinsek said.

Funez said the tight bonds she forges with her fellow ABEs permit her to trust that the work will get done well and that her shipmates will look out for her every day.

"My favorite part about being on the flight deck is being able to know whoever is up there with me has my back, and that we're more than Sailors, we're family," Funez said.

Women first served aboard aircraft carriers only 22 years ago, and within that span, they have overcome numerous challenges and stereotypes to prove they are just as capable as male Sailors. An important milestone for women's history occurred aboard Ike in October 1994 when the ship and its strike group deployed to the Arabian Gulf with 400 women aboard. Prior to 1994, women were not allowed to serve on combatant ships.

Today, the women who launch aircraft off the flight deck don't stress over gender expectations, they simply recognize that a job needs to get done.

"There isn't much difference, honestly," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Jillian Riddall. "At the end of the day, we still have a job to do, male or female. I wasn't raised where you had a choice to get dirty or stay clean-a job is a job. Get it done to the best of your ability."

Despite the grease and the hard work, these women all said they enjoy the job they do and the experiences they share on the flight deck.

It's probably one of the most exciting things I've ever done in my life. I still get nervous when I go up there sometimes, but launching aircraft is an amazing sight to see, and I get to watch it every day." -ABEAR Raquelle Bonds
Navy Feature Photo

Navy Feature Photo