NORFOLK, Va. – In the final installment of FOX 17’s Sailor for a Day series, reporter Doug Reardon and photographer Eric Brefka finally get to meet two sailors on board the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower from here in West Michigan.
Petty Officer 1st Class Bradley Smith is an East Kentwood native, 2004 graduate of East Kentwood High School, and vital part of the repairs and engineering division on board the Mighty Ike. He and his shipmates handle any and all repairs that need to be made to the “hardware” of the ship – its pipes, its doors, any metal or wood working required, laser engraving, etc. Essentially, if it can be made of fixed, Smith and his colleagues are the ones on the job.
“We are a floating city so it doesn’t matter – in port, underway, everything breaks all the time,” said Smith. “They may not know it was you, but how well that weld looks, how well that TV bracket is fabricated, that is your signature. And that’s where people know us.”
Smith joined the Navy directly after school, wanting more vocational experience, specifically in welding. And he sure got it, often times putting in 14-16 hour days during deployments, a cause well worth the effort.
“People’s lives depend on our welds and our metal fabrication,” said Smith.
On the other side of the ship. Lt. Nicholas Taylor, a Kalamazoo native and Western Michigan University graduate, also finds himself under the same, grueling schedule in aviation maintenance. Think of him like a mechanic for your car, but instead of four-wheeled vehicles, Taylor works on sound-barrier-breaking fighter jets.
“It is trying but it’s also rewarding that you’re doing work that other people can’t do,” said Taylor, being interviewed in front of a massive F-18 jet engine, one of many under repair. “Engines, all the body work on the aircraft basically. Any part they take off that’s damage and in need of repair.”
The two willingly admit that time away from family, friends and home can get difficult.
“The biggest difficulties are just, day in and day out work and being away from your family – being away from home, leaving so much behind,” said Smith.
For some, it’s their kids – for others their parents. Everyone has a connection back on dry land that makes their time on board difficult. For Smith, it’s his dog and for Taylor, his wife.
“She’s always telling me ‘don’t worry, I’ve got it under control.’” Said Taylor. “We definitely miss each other when I’m away but she has things well in hand.”
“Once you go back out it’s the same thing – you miss your home, you miss your friends, you miss your family,” said Smith. “Then once you see them you realize: we do what we do for a purpose. And then you love it again.”
It’s a dedicated labor of love, not only for the country they serve, but for the friends and family in West Michigan who are counting on them.
And on board the carrier, the sailors have a family within itself.
“We’re a big family,” said Smith. “We hang out together, we live together, we play video games together underway, we have family disputes just like any other family. But at the end of the day we hug, we make up and we get stuff knocked out.”