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"It's My Plane": a brown shirt at war. (War & Readiness).

WHEN AIRMAN MICHAEL HOLMES FINALLY GETS to his rack at the end of a long day of work on board USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), he pauses for a moment and thinks. The 29-year-old thinks about his wife and kids. He thinks about the fact that he works in one of the most dangerous places in the world, the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. He thinks about the war he is fighting. He also thinks about the fact that he has to get up in a few hours and do it all again. As he nods off, his thoughts turn to dreams.

When his alarm clock goes off in the morning, Holmes begins his job all over again, serving at sea in a war against terror. While he's not in a foxhole, the airman is on the front lines of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Holmes is a plane captain assigned to VFA-94. "It's my plane," said Holmes, "until the pilot comes out [on the flight deck]. Then I give him a salute and turn it over."

Holmes' F/A-18 Hornet has been very busy lately. "I don't know if it's going over Afghanistan or not, but when it gets back with no bombs, I know they didn't just disappear," he said.

The Carl Vinson and Theodore Roosevelt battle groups were in at the very start of the war, conducting a 24/7 bombing campaign over Afghanistan, and Holmes' plane has "led the charge:' so to speak.

His plane, aircraft 400, is the "CAG" bird for his squadron. "The Air Wing Commander's [CAG] name is painted on my plane," said the Baltimore native. Holmes thinks this is good luck, as that jet rarely breaks on his watch.

Holmes is not only in charge of the most visible Hornet in his squadron, he is also the leading airman of his shop. "Airman Holmes is an excellent leading airman. He has been acting like a petty officer in an airman's position," said Holmes' LPO, Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class (AW) David Perez.

With several plane captains in each squadron, each with his or her name and hometown on the side of their plane, being the leading airman is an important job. "I have to make sure there is a plane captain assigned to every plane on the roof," said Holmes.

In addition to being in charge of all the plane captains in his shop, he is also responsible for the accountability of every tool. "If one tool is missing, we have to stop all launches until we find it," said Holmes. "A missing tool is dangerous, because it means there's a chance it was left inside an aircraft. If that's the case, it could compromise the mission and the lives of the pilot and flight deck personnel, not to mention the taxpayer's investment in a multi-million-dollar warplane."

Guarding against such a mishap is behind everything Holmes does on the job. After every screw has been counted and every circuit has been checked, it's time to launch the plane.

He makes his way to the steaming flight deck, where he takes a walk around the jet looking for any abnormalities. Opening panels, wiping down the canopy, checking air intakes and inspecting the landing gear, he is meticulous in his inspection.

After he has gone over the plane with a fine-tooth comb, he waits for the arrival of the pilot. He's often up on the roof for more than an hour in the sweltering sun with his brown jersey, float coat and cranial.

"I'm the happiest man on earth when I see the pilot, because when that plane takes off, I'm done," said Holmes. While he isn't exactly done, he can leave the flight deck while the plane is airborne. He can go down to the mess deck and grab a bite to eat, or check his e-mail. "I probably check my e-mail two or three times a day' said Holmes. "It's good to hear from the family."

When it's time to go topside again to recover his jet, the first thing Holmes does is look to see if the 1,000-pound laser-guided bombs are still attached to the wings of the F/A-18. Then, after he has chained the plane to the deck, he greets the pilot, who turns the jet back over to him. It is now Holmes' plane again, and he must ensure it's ready for the next mission, sometimes only a few hours away.

At the end of his 12-hour shift, he turns over with another plane captain, who will keep an eye on his plane through the night.

You would think after a long day of physically and mentally challenging work, both above and below the flight deck, that Holmes would crawl into his rack and pass out. Not this Sailor. He is an avid weight lifter and often works out with his LPO. "We try to get in the gym every other day, but sometimes it's difficult," said Perez.

Weightlifting isn't the only thing Holmes is interested in. "I'm striking for 'AT.' I've already taken the test, and now I'm just waiting," said Holmes.

While he's a man of few words, Holmes believes in the mission. "I think it's a good thing we are doing out here. It's good to know people back home are supporting us," he said.

Holmes is just one of many Sailors serving on the frontlines. He doesn't ask for much in the end but to go home and be with his family. For now though, this brown shirt answers his country's call to arms with pride.

RELATED ARTICLE: Rainbow Wardrobe

The brown shirt is just one of the seven colored jerseys on the flight deck that indicate a Sailor's specific job. For example, the brown jersey is for line leading petty officers and plane captains. Here are the other colors of the flight deck rainbow:

Green Jerseys -- the arresting gear crew, catapult crew, signal enlisted troubleshooters, helicopter leading signal enlisted, hook runners, maintenance leading petty officers, maintenance crews, photographers, supply vertical replenishment coordinators and integrated catapult control system coordinators.

Purple Jerseys -- aviation fuels crew.

Yellow Jerseys -- aircraft handling officers, plane directors, catapult and arresting gear officers.

White Jerseys -- landing signal officers, squadron plane inspectors, liquid oxygen crews, medical air transfer officers and safety officers.

Red Jerseys -- ordnancemen, explosive ordnance disposal technicians, crash and salvage crews.

Blue Jerseys -- aircraft handling crews, chock men, messengers, telephone talkers, tractor drivers and elevator operators.

Source: The U.S. Navy's web page. "Rainbow Wardrobe" www.chinfo.navy.mil/navapalib/ships/carriers/raibow.html

Ingle is a photojournalist assigned to All Hands.
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Title Annotation:plane captain Michael Holmes
Author:Ingle, Saul
Publication:All Hands
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Words:1101
Previous Article:Home to America's Embrace. (War & Readiness).
Next Article:The parted curtain.
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