The Life Of An Aviation Boatswain's Mate
Cool, calm and coordinated ... These are words that characterize the finesse qualified “yellow shirts” display when directing aircraft, whether it be maneuvering through a busy hangar bay or in a fast-paced environment on the flight deck.
“It is an honor to be a qualified yellow shirt,” said Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Jarell Holliday, from Cambridge, Maryland. “You are entrusted with the lives of the pilots in aircraft as well as the personnel on the flight deck. You are entrusted to execute the flight plan from the first aircraft launch to the last recovery, and do it safely. Most days are long and challenging, but it is rewarding and fun when we have completed the mission and made it home safely.”
Aviation Boatswain’s Mates (Handling), or ABHs, that are a qualified yellow shirt are aircraft directors who are able to direct aircraft without being shadowed by a seasoned qualified yellow shirt.
“Everyone starts off as a blue shirt, but you have to get your Flight Deck Observer and Plane Handler qualifications to become a qualified blue shirt,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class Kiara Harris, from Chicago. “In addition to earning qualifications, you also have to gain the trust from your chain of command and show you can uphold the responsibility of the job. You have to take tests and boards after you have received the training too.”
ABHs that are E-5 and below are required to attend an ABH refresher course every five years to stay up-to-date on the rate basics, and aircraft firefighting school every four years which covers firefighting techniques used on the flight deck and in the hangar bay. For yellow shirts on the flight deck, Landing Signalman Enlisted School is a requirement in order to learn the proper hand signals to give to pilots during launch and recovery, as it is the primary means of communication during flight operations.
When ABHs are ready to begin stepping into the yellow shirt role, they become a under instruction (UI) yellow shirt. UI yellow shirts are shadowed by an experienced yellow shirt who ensures they are making the right calls when directing aircraft.
“The UI yellow [shirt] is a tough process with many new procedures and responsibilities,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Timothy Ojeda, from New York. “Some responsibilities of mine are getting the flight plan and going over it with my work center, and ensuring my shipmates understand what is going to happen throughout flight operations, as well as directing, parking and spotting aircraft under the supervision of a qualified yellow shirt. My journey to becoming a yellow shirt has only begun and I am ready to take on the flight deck with a clear mind and open ears.”
ABHs are known for not wearing ranks on their jerseys to signify the importance of being qualified as opposed to what rank they are.
“Yellow shirts do not wear rank on their sleeves due to the increased responsibility and position of authority sometimes given to junior E-3s and E-4s who have shown they are competent and capable of being a yellow shirt,” said Holliday. “Yellow shirts are the flight deck supervisors that keep the flight deck flowing. It is a yellow shirt’s job to keep the flight deck as safe as possible with procedural compliance in everything we do.”
Becoming a yellow shirt does not happen overnight and is not simply given to ABHs after a specific time-in-rate. It takes hard work, long hours of training and working on qualifications to earn the right to wear a yellow shirt. On average, it can take an ABH a few years to become a fully qualified yellow shirt.
“My biggest advice for someone who is trying to make yellow [shirt] is to hit the ground running and don’t let anyone negative get in your head,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Alexis Apodaca, from Cheyenne, Wyoming. “On Ford, it may take a little longer to obtain in-rate qualifications as an ABH because we’re just starting to ramp up and catch aircraft, but if you want to make it happen, you can. Just do it to the best of your ability and stand out.”
Finally receiving a yellow shirt is a significant moment in the career of an ABH. When flight operations are being conducted and the yellow shirts are on deck, rest assured they are doing what they do best because they trained for it.
Gerald R. Ford is a first-in-class aircraft carrier and the first new aircraft carrier designed in more than 40 years. Ford's (CVN 78) flight deck during flight operations.