AT SEA ABOARD USS BONHOMME RICHARD (NNS) -- Since the beginning of Operation Unified Assistance Jan. 4, USS Bonhomme Richard's (LHD 6) (BHR) flight deck has moved on average more than 175,000 pounds of fresh water, food and medical supplies daily on and off the amphibious assault ship.
Capable of running 24-hour, non-stop combat operations, the fight deck changed its operational tempo pace to support Operation Unified Assistance.
"We changed our focus from strike 'ops' to cargo packed humanitarian assistance," said BHR's flight deck handler, Lt. Christopher Castleman, a native of Winston-Salem, N.C. "That changed the tempo of the flight deck, and I'm very proud our Sailors can flex to meet that and stay motivated.
"It is easy for them to stay motivated. It is also very easy to feel good about the job when you know you are actually helping people," he added. "We are one of the only ones who can provide it right now."
One of the primary roles of Air Department's V-1 division is to support the embarked Marine Air Combat Element (ACE). They work with the ACE to load personnel and cargo, refuel, and launch and recover aircraft.
"We are the support staff on the ship that allows them [ACE] to make their runs to the beach and back," Castleman said in between landing aircraft. "We man the flight deck for however long is required to finish the mission."
Most Sailors aboard the Revolutionary Gator knew the ship would lend a hand in the relief efforts following the devastating tsunami. The flight deck's workload nearly doubled when the ship's scheduled port visit to Naval Station Guam was shortened, and BHR began steaming toward the epicenter. The Air Department extended flying hours to meet the demands of the airlift relief operations.
"Our mission changed in an instant," said Fly One's Leading Petty Officer, Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 1st Class (AW/SW) Glenn Owens from V-1 Division. "In the blink of an eye, it changed to a humanitarian assistance operation."
The Youngstown, Ohio, native said all the training during the pre-deployment phase paid off.
"We trained for it during the work-ups. They threw so many different situations at us. Now we are constantly on our toes," Owens explained. "We had to adjust very quickly. We left with a war mindset. Now it's, food, food, food, and water, water, water. Everyone wanted to go over there and chip in, but it's the little things they do, like chocking and chaining, and loading the helicopters. It is going out and helping somebody's mother, father, daughter or son."
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Eliel Portocarieia from V-1 Division agreed.
"During the last WESTPAC (Western Pacific Ocean deployment), we were supporting the war effort. This one, we are helping the tsunami victims," Portocarieia said. "We have been working a lot of hours, but that is our job. I would do it again if I had to."
Bonhomme Richard is currently deployed as the Expeditionary Strike Group 5 Flagship, steaming off the coast of Indonesia.
For related news on Navy tsunami relief operations, visit the Focus on Tsunami Relief Operations page at www.navy.mil/local/tsunami.
For related news, visit the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/lhd6.