By Lt.j.g. Jason Smith
Few people look forward to them. They often signal the beginning of a busy work week after a fun-filled weekend. Tasks can be tedious, and hours can drag on. Most people simply look forward to the end of the day.
But that was not the case for Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Jamie Stevens when he arrived at work on March 26. After over 12 years of service in the Navy, and five years with Electronic Attack Squadron 135 (VAQ-135), he was not going to have an ordinary Monday. He was in for the ride of his life.
Stevens had distinguished himself as Sailor of the Year for the Black Ravens, and his reward was something few have ever done: a flight in an EA-18G Growler tactical jet. In preparation for the flight, Stevens underwent special training, including aviation water survival and an aviation flight physical.
Stevens flew with Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Maher as his pilot in a formation of three Growlers attached to VAQ-135 out of NAS Whidbey Island. The division practiced air intercept operations and dynamic maneuvering on a training mission in Eastern Washington before rejoining and returning to Whidbey Island.
His favorite part of the experience was taking in the full flight event – sitting with the aircrew for the flight briefing by Lt. Cmdr. James Fuemmeler, working on air-to-air tactics in the operating area, and joining the aircrew for the post-flight debrief. He also got a thrill as he and Maher performed a full afterburner “straight-up vertical maneuver, where all you could see was the blue sky.”
It can take aircrew several flights to acclimate to high G Forces, but Stevens was able to cope with them fairly quickly. He recalled that he “didn’t get tunnel vision at six Gs,” even though the G Forces “felt like six 200-pound guys sitting on your chest and legs.”
Gravitational forces acting upon the body in a tactical jet like the Growler can rapidly pull blood away from the brain and eyes, causing vision loss and even loss of consciousness. Stevens worked with Maher before the flight to practice an effective anti-G straining maneuver which utilizes proper muscle flexion and breathing techniques to help combat the physiological effects of high G.
Stevens has a new appreciation for the various challenges aircrew face during each flight. He recalled feeling nauseous and dizzy and getting a headache after the flight was done. He also has a new appreciation for aircrew and their daily duties, saying, “They have a lot to take in during one day’s work, from flight events with high G forces to collateral duties back on deck.”
Mission success depends on teamwork, and the squadron cannot be effective without the superb efforts from top performing Sailors like Stevens. VAQ-135 is pleased to reward their Sailor of the Year with an adrenaline-filled flight in the EA-18G Growler on a sunny spring day that Stevens will never forget.