Face of Defense: Navy ‘Shooters’ Launch Carrier Jets

Sept. 22, 2014 | BY Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Cavagnaro , USS George Washington
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Navy Lt. Kacee Jossis, a “shooter” aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington, verifies all the pre-flight checks have been completed and everyone on the flight deck is in position to commence flight operations.

Jossis then looks up at an F/A-18F Super Hornet jet assigned to the “Diamondbacks” of Strike Fighter Squadron 102 and gives the signal to launch.

These seemingly routine operations require the teamwork of many highly trained personnel, including a small group of 11 yellow-shirted catapult officers known as “shooters” who are responsible for the safe and efficient launch of the ship’s aircraft.

“The catapult officer is responsible to ensure the catapult is prepared and ready to launch aircraft, the aircraft is properly configured to launch, all personnel are in their proper position and any observers are behind the foul lines,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Neff, a shooter aboard George Washington.

“We inspect the entire catapult system, the jet-blast deflector, and input our calculations for wind to determine how much steam is needed to launch aircraft,” Neff said.

On-the-job training

In order to become a shooter, a catapult officer must hold numerous qualifications and have successfully completed rigorous on-the-job training.

The qualifications can take anywhere from three to six months to achieve, but upon completion, being a shooter is one of the best jobs a sailor can have on an aircraft carrier, said Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Kreutz, George Washington’s lead catapult officer,.

“For us, it’s all about being around flight operations and continuing to do so,” Kreutz said. “All of us come from different backgrounds as naval aviators and being a shooter is a completely different job than we’re used to, so it’s nice to see a different side of the aviation world and control flight operations.”

Part of air department

In addition to these duties, shooters command the five divisions that make up George Washington’s air department.

“Air department is the biggest department on the ship, with nearly 750 sailors,” Neff said. “When we’re not out there on the flight deck shooting aircraft, we’re running our divisions and leading our sailors.”

To mark the end of her tour on the George Washington, Jossis upheld a catapult officer tradition by tying her flight deck boots around a catapult and launching them into the ocean.

“For my last shot on the flight deck, I was able to shoot my boots to signify my completed tour as a shooter,” Jossis said. “It was a nice way to send me off and onto my next command.”

Reflects on catapult officer duty

Jossis reflected upon the two years she spent as a shooter aboard the ship.

“It’s been a good experience,” Jossis said. “If you’re going to come to a carrier as a pilot and not fly, shooting is the best job you can have. I really enjoyed working with everyone in air department. It’s bittersweet to leave, but I’m ready to fly again.”

George Washington is currently participating in Valiant Shield, which is a joint exercise integrating U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps assets, offering real-world joint operational experience to develop capabilities that provide a full range of options to defend U.S. interests and those of its allies and partners.