ABOARD USS BATAAN, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Bataan (LHD 5) reached a historic milestone on their 108th day out to sea.
Operating as one of two forward-deployed Harrier carriers in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bataan became the Harrier carrier, embarking the most Harriers on a large deck amphibious ship ever.
"When we came into theater, we had 26 Harriers and the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) had 22," said Lt. Larry Young, Bataan's aircraft handling officer. "One of our squadrons, VMA-542, transferred custody of two Harriers to Bonhomme Richard, so both ships would have equal numbers." Now that we are getting ready to depart, we now have those two Harriers back onboard."
Bataan's flight deck and hangar bay can get a little crowded with 26 Harriers.
"Real estate is a premium on the flight deck, and this ship was never designed to carry so many Harriers, but we've been able to accommodate them, get the mission accomplished," said Young.
Young said the flight deck crew rewrote the book on how to move and arrange aircraft to meet operational commitments.
"We developed a plan and made it work," said Young. "The key was to make the flight deck a 'ready deck' through use of the night move crew. If it weren't for them moving the aircraft around at night to set up for the day crew, we wouldn't have had a ready deck first thing in the morning and be ready for the mission. We have moved aircraft 24 hours a day since we came into theater."
Splitting the crew into a day shift and a night shift was the answer.
"This was a unique experience. We were putting our heads together to figure out how to move the Harriers and get them to the correct spots for their missions," said Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handler) Raymond Stallings, night crew leading chief petty officer. "For the last four months, we've had at least nine people on the night crew performing up to 15 aircraft moves a night. Everyone came together and made it work well above expectations."
This great teamwork and attention to detail is what led the Bataan to successfully complete 5,000 mishap-free aircraft moves. "I've never seen a crew more dedicated and hard working as the Bataan crew. I'm very impressed with everyone, and I've never seen a crew work so hard before," said Young.
Dedication, teamwork and devotion to the mission are what makes Bataan and its Sailors stand out as the "Harrier carrier."
The ship and embarked Marines are components of Commander Task Force 51. The ship and crew left its home port of Norfolk, Va., in January, for an unscheduled deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is the ship's third deployment since its commissioning in September 1997.
For related news, visit the USS Bataan (LHD 5) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/lhd5.