Exclusive: South Texans on the front lines of a Navy aircraft carrier

Exclusive: South Texans on the front lines of a Navy aircraft carrier

NORFOLK, VA – The U.S. Navy invited Fox San Antonio along for a rare opportunity to spend the night on an aircraft carrier where sailors from South Texas live and work for months and even years at a time, fighting for our freedom.

We first saw the USS Abraham Lincoln at her home part in Norfolk, Virginia, at the world’s largest Naval base.

The next time we see her, it’s from the cockpit of a military plane that’s about to execute a trap landing: from 287 miles per hour to zero, in just two seconds.

The door opens, and it hits you: you’re on a flight deck on an aircraft carrier, full speed ahead through the Atlantic Ocean.

“The adrenaline’s high. Always. Always high,” says helicopter pilot Derek Pelletier.

On any given day, 100 aircraft can take off and land on the 4.5 acre-flight deck that’s home to some of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

“Chaotic, exciting… scary,” crew member Ian Bordagaray describes the action. “Most of the time we can’t hear each other talk so we just,” he pauses, while rapidly moving his hand back and forth.

From crew members with their own sign language, the pilots and their gravity-defying feats, to the sailors steering the 97,000-ton ship, The U.S. Navy has thousands of service members aboard.

And here in the Land of Lincoln, the Great State of Texas is well represented.

“So I’m the chief engineer on board the USS Abraham Lincoln,” says Bryant Cleveland as we walk through the hangar deck.

He’s from Pearsall, and we have to brag about his famous connection.

“So George Strait, his father was a school teacher at our high school,” Cleveland says.You might call him the ship’s chief fixer, because that’s what he does: fixes anything that breaks.”Any kind of electrical loads, lug centers, any kind of pumps, elevators, weapons elevators, aircraft elevators,” Cleveland says.His responsibilities include handling the anchor chain on the upper decks.”Each link of the chain here weights around 350 pounds each – so very powerful,” Cleveland says. “And when we do this, it’s very dangerous.”His work extends all the way to the lower deck, and we do mean lower – through a series of ladders and manholes down 36 feet underwater, where giant air and heating systems make it possible for sailors to do their jobs all around the world.”I’ll be here until June of 2019, so it’s a two-year tour,” Cleveland says.In another part of the ship, Mark Valenzuela from the Rio Grande Valley will be on board until July 2020.”I’m from San Benito, TX,” Valenzuela says.In civilian terms, he works in IT.”Go around to each space, fixing computers, making new work stations, running cables,” Valenzuela explains. “Basically anything dealing with a computer, I’m the guy for it.”While on the job, he’s climbed every nook and cranny of the ship.”Someone from a very small hometown to be able to do something more grand than what the average 22-year-old would be doing,” Valenzuela says […]