Sea For Yourself

Shanna Ibarolle-Koenig during her 24-hour stay on the USS Theodore Roosevelt earlier this month. 

A Yankton High School (YHS) teacher hopes her experience aboard an aircraft carrier can help bridge the gap for students between a land-locked Midwestern town and the U.S. Navy.

When Shanna Ibarolle-Koenig, head volleyball coach and English teacher at YHS, was asked if she would like to experience a day on a naval aircraft carrier, she was interested.

The opportunity came through the U.S. Navy Recruiting Command’s Educators To Sea (ETS) program, which aims to expose educators firsthand to the vast array of opportunities the Navy can provide to recruits.

Debra Bodenstedt, a retired U.S. Navy Captain who is president of the South Dakota Council of the Navy League, found out about the program in April at a regional training for Navy League members.

After meeting with Yankton School District administrators, Bodenstedt obtained a list of names of teachers interested in participating in the ETS program, which she quickly passed on. The first opportunity to embark came in June, but was cancelled due to the carrier having been suddenly deployed.

Hoping for another chance, Ibarolle-Koenig kept in touch with the program. A few weeks ago, she got it: the opportunity to embark on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) while the nuclear powered aircraft carrier conducted training exercises in preparation for a January deployment.

She took it.

In all, the trip took about three days. One, travelling to and from the naval base in San Diego and a day and a night aboard the carrier.

Participants reached the aircraft carrier by plane, experiencing both a trap landing and a catapult.

“We were given a tour of the naval base, and then we were given a naval embark briefing,” Ibarolle-Koenig said. “We learned about what to expect, some of the things we would see, and more about the different kinds of aircraft, how the ships work and the striker fleet that surrounds the aircraft carrier.”

The next morning, the educators were flown out to the carrier on a Grumman C-2 Greyhound, a plane designed to carry passengers and cargo to and from aircraft carriers.

Because the planes trap land on the carriers, passengers are strapped into a four-point harness and face backwards. On trap landing and catapult launch, two of the pilots wave their hands and yell, ‘Here we go! Here we go! Here we go!’ as an alert to passengers, she said.

“I was fortunate enough to get half a window,” Ibarolle-Koenig said. “We had to circle a few times, and it was really cool to see the enormous ship, and the water was so blue.”

Also circling the carrier for all takeoffs and landings were two helicopters, in position for a rescue at sea if something went wrong.

Trap landing involves slowing down from 150 mph to 0 mph in 3 seconds, Ibarolle-Koenig said.

“When we left we got to catapult launch, and you go from 0 mph to 150 mph in 1.6 seconds,” she said. “These are experiences I will never forget.”

Due to the force of a catapult launch, the pilots tell passengers to look down and hold onto their harnesses, she said.

“Because of the amount of power and force, your legs, everything, your whole body goes forward,” Ibarolle-Koenig said. “I remember feeling a little sore in the shoulders because of how much force was putting me into my harness.”

On landing, the group was taken to meet Commanding Officer Capt. Brett Crozier and Executive Officer Peter Riebe, and was briefed on aircraft carrier safety and protocol.

They also met Rear Admiral Stuart P. Baker, the commander of the carrier strike group.

The aircraft carrier has 5,000 servicemen and women aboard, and 85% of those are between 18 and 25 years old, Ibarolle-Koenig was told.

“(Crozier) said, ‘These sailors and airmen are given a tremendous amount of responsibility. They make this ship operate, they are serving their country,’” Ibarolle-Koenig said. “‘When they go back home, they can’t even rent a car,’ he said, because some of these kids are that young, and they are in charge of these catapult launches; they are steering the ship; they are taking care of the nuclear reactors.”

Ibarolle-Koenig was also struck by the pride those aboard the carrier took in their jobs and noticed how they studied every chance they got.

“The aircraft carrier was essentially like a floating tech school,” Ibarolle-Koenig. “These individuals are constantly learning more about what it is they need to do.”

The carrier’s in-house machine repair shop can manufacture any part that breaks on site, she said, adding that the person in charge of the shop is 23.

“The individual who was in charge of all jet engine repairs was actually from Norfolk, Nebraska,” Ibarolle-Koenig said. “We got to take a picture; he was wearing his Huskers hat.”

All repairs to jets are done on site in the 4.5-acre hangar space under the flight deck, she said.

The group also met with the pilots and learned about what they do, and mingled with others in the mess, or dining area.

“The people are so articulate. They know their stuff inside and out. They are experts,” she said. “When they speak — and it could be anyone, it could be those that are in charge of the catapult or those in charge of the fuel or the directors in the yellow shirts — they are really passionate about what they do.”

Ibarolle-Koenig believes that getting the word out to her students about the Navy could help some make a decision after they leave high school. In fact, by the end of her trip, there was a part of her that wondered if maybe she should have been in the Navy.

“I could have picked anything from public affairs to media,” Ibarolle-Koenig said. “The ship has its own TV channel and people who work on that, but all the way from graphic design to anything that I could possibly have wanted to do, I could have learned there.

“From the bottom of the sea, to the top of the sky, the Navy covers all of it.”

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