ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Similar to a warfare device, the yellow jersey is a symbol of a special qualification, hard earned through long hours and training. The men and women who wear them, called yellow shirts, are a prominent and cohesive community working a dangerous job that plays an important part in completing the Navy's mission.
Aviation Boatswain's Mates (Handling) (ABHs) are responsible for the direction of all aircraft on the flight deck and in the hangar bay of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72).
"I've been working toward completing this qualification for four years," said Aviation Boatswain's Mates (Handling) 3rd Class Christopher Moore. "It was a huge goal of mine that I've finally accomplished. After this, underway, I'll be an [under instruction] (U/I) yellow shirt. Being a yellow shirt is the pinnacle of being an ABH and the time and dedication it took me to get here was well worth it."
ABHs wear yellow or blue shirts to indicate what responsibilities they hold. Airmen start out as blue shirts, arriving from "A" school if they are rated, or boot camp if they are undesignated. They primarily work on the flight deck if assigned to V-1 division, or in the hangar bay if assigned to V-3 division. As a blue shirt, ABHs can hold the positions of elevator operator, sound-powered phone talker or "chock and chain," who secure aircraft to the deck.
An ABH then earns a yellow jersey by becoming aircraft director qualified. The qualifications include flight deck observer, directing and handling. The qualification requirements take roughly 12 weeks to complete. After completion, Sailors take a written and oral test administered by the flight deck leading petty officer (LPO), assistant LPO and any other-yellow-shirt qualified chief petty officers or first class petty officers.
"I was determined to get my yellow shirt quicker than the average amount of time," said Aviation Boatswain's Mates (Handling) 3rd Class Mark Vargas. "I was a U/I yellow shirt after 9 months onboard."
A U/I yellow shirt is always accompanied by a seasoned mentor who observes every signal and decision the U/I yellow shirt makes to ensure they are learning the process. The mentor shows them the importance of attention to detail while carrying out their duties as aircraft directors. Becoming a qualified plane director and wearing a yellow shirt takes most Sailors an average of three years.
"My mentor helped me become the yellow shirt I am today by allowing me make my own mistakes while correcting me along the way to make sure I learned from them," said Aviation Boatswain's Mates (Handling) 2nd Class Marcus Powell. "He taught me some valuable leadership skills and how to find a happy medium between being a great leader and aircraft director."
Additionally, yellow shirts are required to attend Landing Signal Enlisted School, where they learn how to launch and recover aircraft. They have to learn all the hand signals, study the manuals and get familiarized with the standard operating procedures.
During flight operations, hand signals are the only way for Sailors to communicate with each other and the pilots. The sounds of a busy flight deck, like the roar of an F-35 during take-off and landing or the spinning of helicopter blades, make speaking with one another impossible.
"Flight operations are organized chaos," said Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mates (Handling) Enrique Gerald. "It's the yellow shirts' job to make sense of it all and communicate effectively in order to get the job done safely."
The ABH community takes great pride in wearing a yellow jersey and is the only aviation community to not wear their rank visibly on their flight deck uniform.
"I'm a second class, and we can have anyone from an airman to a master chief with the same qualification," said Aviation Boatswain's Mates (Handling) 2nd Class Dion Sanders, the "tractor king," who's primarily in charge of ground support equipment. "There's a lot of manual time and studying that goes into becoming a yellow shirt, and we don't want someone to dismiss a fully-qualified aircraft director just because he's an E-4 or below. They've all done the board. They all did the training. They all know the same stuff. So we don't wear our ranks on our sleeves for that reason."
Earning a yellow jersey is a momentous occasion in the ABH community. It's not one that's given; it's one that's earned. It shows their fellow flight deck crew how seriously they take their job. As long as flight operations are being conducted, you can count on the yellow shirts being on deck to make sure it goes smoothly.
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