‘It’s my duty to serve’: Ch. 2 gets exclusive look at how GA sailors are training amid war in Israel

ATLANTA — As the Israel-Hamas war escalates, the U.S. Is working to prevent the conflict from widening in the Middle East.

Those efforts include sending two aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean near Israel.

Channel 2′s Tom Regan and photojournalist Justin Crate traveled aboard the USS George Washington, off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, to find out how Georgia sailors are training and staying prepared.

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They were initially set to tour the USS Eisenhower, but that trip was canceled at the last minute just before it was deployed toward the Middle East.

The Navy, like all branches of the military, is struggling to meet its recruiting goals. This comes at a critical time of major conflicts around the world.

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“We always have to be ready and think, ‘What if we are called today?’” Lt. Cmdr. Tina Reed said.

“You train to be prepared,” said Petty Officer Second Class Howard Young, an aviation electronics technician.

“I’m super confident in my fellow sailors to do their job and get us back home safe,” Petty Officer Second Class Jeremy Taylor said.

[PHOTOS: Behind the scenes as Channel 2 travels aboard the USS George Washington]

With conflicts escalating overseas, Regan learned that the U.S. Navy is ready to serve and protect.

We went to get a first-hand look at the intense training and preparations of sailors, especially those from Georgia.

Our crew climbed aboard a naval transport plane and flew out a hundred miles into the Atlantic to land on the flight deck of the USS George Washington.

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This massive carrier is home to nearly 3,000 sailors. On this mission, F-18 naval aviators are getting tested on takeoffs and landings.

“I’m more comfortable with doing it now, but it’s very challenging, very technical. You got very precise parameters you have to fly through,” said Capt. William Mathis, who is the executive officer of the ship and a veteran F-18 combat fighter pilot.

The carrier is like a floating city – more than 1,000 feet long, and 24 stories tall.

It’s a labyrinth of narrow hallways and steep stairs.

Even though you’re floating on a vast ocean, much of the living space is sparse. But the focus is on the mission.

“I feel like with everything that is happening, it’s my duty to serve. I’m here to keep our country safe and our allies safe,” Quartermaster Seaman Jacoby Holloman said.


“We are obviously out there to make sure there is safe navigation of the seas,” Division Leading Chief Petty Officer Laurie Betts, of Roswell, said.

Back at Naval Station Norfolk, submariners are training on submarine simulators.

The Navy has the most capable submarine force in the world with 65 active submarines.

Petty Officer First Class Christopher Holley of Cartersville has been on months-long sub deployments.

“I’m not claustrophobic, so I figured I would give it a shot. And here we are,” Holley told Regan. “You actually get used to it. I’m a larger fellow so it’s even tighter for me.”

Holley talked about the close quarters that he had to sleep in.

“I slept next to a torpedo the whole time I was underway. That’s kind of nice cause it creates the other wall, and these stay cooler than everything else. Cause subs can get warm sometimes,” Holley said.

One of the most unique vessels of the Navy is the LCAC or hovercraft. It rides on a one-inch cushion of air. It can quickly transition from the sea to land to deploy marine units, armored vehicles weapons, and more.

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Petty Officer Third Class Breanna Garris, an LCAC mechanic, grew up in Buckhead.

“I like the foundation of our crews and how much we work together to get the job done,” Garris said.

“Hovercraft are extremely unique as far as taking personnel, equipment, and vehicles from ship to shore in a reduced time,” Petty Officer Young, of Newnan, said.

When not at sea, sailors help schedule maintenance on ships and get ready for their next deployment.

“It’s set for an eight-month deployment right now. But if this war is still arising, we are going to get extended on that deployment as well,” Petty Officer Taylor said.

Back on the USS George Washington, the executive officer and fighter pilot, underscored how everyone on board a ship, is critical to the success of the mission.

“The launching of the jets, that’s the sexy part. But none of that happens without all the sailors doing their job. Every one of them plays a key role in building up the mission of this ship,” Mathis said.

The U.S. Navy said this year for active duty enlisted sailors, they were short 7,464 recruits. That is despite the Navy updating recruitment policies. They also set record-high enlistment bonuses, raised the maximum enlistment age, and started a physical fitness training program to help potential recruits.