Sudden Danger Means No Hesitation
By Seaman Apprentice Jesse Martin, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
ABOARD USS CARL VINSON, Aug. 18, 2003 An aircraft carrier's flight deck during flight operations is widely recognized as one of the most dangerous places to work. So the sailors and Marines of USS Carl Vinson and Carrier Air Wing 9 are constantly on the lookout for dangers. For them, crew safety is paramount on the deck's four-and-a-half acres of sovereign U.S. territory.
Recently, as the "Gold Eagle" navigated the waters of the western Pacific, Petty Officer Third Class Jason Countryman of Electronic Attack Squadron 138, the "Yellow Jackets," showed his safety alertness in rushing to save a shipmate from being blown into the intake of an EA-6B Prowler's roaring jet engine.
As a member of the Rampage 502 team that maintains the squadron's aircraft, Countryman was conducting pre-launch checks on a Prowler for an upcoming flight. Working on aircraft elevator 2, more Rampage 502 personnel surrounded the aircraft to check for any pre-launch discrepancies. Other aircraft crews were conducting similar checks throughout the flight deck.
With all pre-launch checks complete on an F/A-18 Hornet, that aircraft was directed out of its parking space, as Rampage 502 crewmen neared completion of their inspections. Transiting the flight deck, the Hornet swept its exhaust in the direction of the Prowler and its deck crewmen. While maintaining a watchful eye on his fellow aircrew, Countryman noticed that another 502 sailor was about to be caught off guard by the sudden force of exhaust. The powerful gust possibly could have blown him into the Prowler's intake.
"We concentrate on our jet, but we also watch aircrew to see if they need any help," said Countryman.
He saw the Hornet begin its turn and correctly anticipated that the exhaust would sweep across the Prowler's crew. Immediately reacting, the 21-year-old raced to his shipmate and shoved him to the deck, where they huddled as the strong blast of hot air swept above.
"Petty Officer Countryman's quick action and situational awareness saved his fellow sailor from serious injury at least, perhaps from death," said Cmdr. Stephen W. Beckvonpeccoz, Yellow Jackets commanding officer. "Very certainly, he saved the CVN-70/CVW-9 team from severe damage to an extremely valuable jet engine and loss of a critical EA-6B."
Countryman has remained very humble over the situation. "I'm not making a big deal about this -- just doing my job," he said about the event and his shipmate who was caught off guard. "We joke about it now, but we know it could have been serious."
Countryman's superiors, however, have recognized him for saving his shipmate from possible harm.
"Especially being the junior guy, he did a great job," said Petty Officer 1st Class Jerry Williams, a quality assurance representative who witnessed the event. "He's new but was very aware."
The Farmington, N.M., native has been in the Navy for three years and a Yellow Jacket since June 2000. Chief Petty Officer Brian Buchanan said Countryman's actions clearly demonstrated his competence and how important it is to always be alert.
"This shows me they are keeping each other safe and alive up there," he said. "We only put the best of the best up there, because it's such a dangerous environment. These guys are a really tight group, and that's how it has to be."
The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is currently deployed in the western Pacific.
(Seaman Apprentice Jesse Martin is assigned to the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group Public Affairs Office.)