A Whirlwind Education

Yankton High School teacher Angie Luken hopes to use her day aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier to help guide students

Yankton High School’s (YHS) latest participant in the U.S. Navy’s “Educators To Sea” (ETS) program has just returned from a whirlwind tour of education and discovery.

Angie Luken recently returned from an overnight stay on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, where she and five other educators saw the types of opportunities and careers the U.S. Navy can offer graduating seniors.

Through the program, qualifying high school teachers are invited to fly out to an aircraft carrier and see what it has to offer to recruits, particularly in the area of technology. The goal is to familiarize teachers with careers the Navy can offer graduating students.

“It can open up doors for you that you didn’t think existed,” Luken told the Press & Dakotan. “There are just tons of careers there, and they can train you for them.”

As it happened, she received the invitation just over a week after her husband, Scott, passed away suddenly in September.

“I thought it was highly coincidental, perhaps a sign from Scott,” Luken said.

The only other YHS teacher to have participated in ETS was Shanna Ibarolle-Koenig, who visited the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2019.

Luken’s group of 12 included six educators and five distinguished visitors, including Navy wives and a businessman. It was the first such tour offered since the pandemic began, she said.

“This was a 30-day deployment to get all their pilots ‘carrier qualified,’ to get them trained, before they deploy in December,” Luken said.

The tour, which comprises a great deal of information, is compressed into about 24 hours.

“They had us in briefings and meetings and tours of the base by 7:30 a.m., and by 9:30 in the morning, we were on an Osprey being flown out to the carrier,” she said. “By 10:30-10:45 a.m., we were on board the ship.”

The Osprey, a military aircraft, takes off and lands like a helicopter, so Luken’s group did not experience the arrested landing and catapult launch unique to aircraft carriers.

“However, it was an experience,” Luken said. “If you’ve flown in the Osprey, the back end is open, and if you look out, you see the clouds below you and as you come down, you see the ocean.”

After lunch, the day kicked into high gear with tours of many areas of the aircraft carrier, starting with the hangar bay. Located under the flight deck, the hangar bay is where planes are repaired and sheltered from the elements, she said.

“For the first hour, (the carrier’s crew) was doing a drill, like, the ship had been attacked,” Luken said. “In the hangar bay, they were sealing up the hangar doors that are usually open and then other doors were closing to divide the hangar into four sections to stop fire.”

Luken said she was struck by the way the sailors worked together in groups and the communication within each group.

“They came through the doors in different types of fire-fighting apparel — some of it was regular and some of it is the reflective silver thermal (gear)— and they walked in unison, so they would know their next step was safe, how to get people out and how to work as a team.”

The group also saw plane engines and learned about the repair process, she said.

“They are a floating city. They take care of whatever they need,” Luken said. “We saw everything from dealing with the garbage, recycling and laundry to classified areas with electronics.”

There are many careers available in the Navy, she said, including pilots, cooks, maintenance workers, electricians, nuclear technicians and medical and dental personnel.

“During breakfast, I met an Information Technology (IT) guy, who did not join the Navy to be an IT guy,” Luken said. “He was in different programs based on what he wanted to do, but based on his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, they encouraged him to try IT and now he’s the head of (the carrier’s) IT Department, an officer and probably in his late 20s.”

All of Yankton High School’s sophomores take the ASVAB because it helps students see where their interests may lie, she noted.

The most enthusiastic person Luken said she met worked with the mirrors and lasers mounted on the front of the jets and involved with tracking and firing missiles.

“Of course, my favorite place was watching those jets fly, whether it was during the daytime hours, or, we got to watch the flight ops at night from the tower,” she said. “It’s kind of an experience seeing it at night. It’s pitch black and they’ve got to find what they call ‘the meatball,’ a little red light and line up to land that jet on a quarter-mile strip.”

Overall, Luken said that, as an educator, the experience will help her guide students.

“If you are undecided as to what to do, maybe explore your options,” she said. “Here is a way to get training and education — kind of for free — and you get to serve your country at the same time.”

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