I launched a multi-million dollar aircraft in a panda costume

“I have been in the Navy a little over 10 years. My family and I have had tremendous experiences and have had the privilege of meeting people from all walks of life. They have enriched our lives and made each duty station special. Deployments in the military can pose unique challenges to individuals and families. It is not easy to be away from your spouse or children, especially when your children are small and rapidly developing. Leaving my wife at home as a de facto single parent with four kids at times left me feeling helpless. You miss out on events and milestones that you cannot go back and experience. Often, the only thing you can do when you get an email that the car won’t start or the dishwasher is broken is reply and say how you wish you could be there to take care of everything. However, deployments can also present special opportunities to mature as a person, develop professional skills, visit unique places in the world, and ultimately serve your fellow man.

“For the last seven months, I have been deployed on the USS John C. Stennis as a Catapult and Arresting Gear Officer. For aviators, going to the boat (especially as part of ship’s company) is an assignment no one is particularly excited to complete, but I can gratefully say that this has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding tours of my career.  As ‘Shooters,’ we are in charge of safely launching and recovering aircraft. Shooters fill an important role for the Air Wing as it projects power to secure American interests, but for all intents and purposes, Shooters are glorified amusement park ride operators. With any job, there can be a fair amount of monotony, but when you are kneeling on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier 20 feet away from a jet at full afterburner, it makes for a memorable and illuminating work experience.

“Over the last seven months, I have had the chance to work with the best and brightest people America has to offer. Hard work, service and dedication know no race, nationality, ethnic background, gender, or sexual orientation. We have had the chance to defend American interests, reassure our allies, and engage our friends in the South China Sea and Western Pacific. One day often blends into the next, especially on the flight deck. At the end of deployment, as the Air Wing prepared to fly-off, a number of Shooters broke out different costumes they had been squirreling away for the occasion. I had a wrestling mask from Nacho Libre which seemed like a great idea for a fly-off costume seven months ago, but quickly proved to be lacking. However, my friend and fellow Shooter Marc had the foresight to buy a remake of Jimmy Fallon’s Hashtag Panda costume. Needless to say, it was a hit with the catapult crews and flight deck personnel, because who doesn’t like a panda, especially a panda that launches jets? Hopefully we gave the pilots a laugh before they took a final cat shot for their return home to their families. Between launch cycles, Marc and I took turns wearing the suit and acting like a bunch of clowns for all to see.

“As I look back on deployment, I am reminded of a speech President Kennedy gave to midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963. In his concluding remarks, he said, ‘Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction – ‍’‍I served in the United States Navy.‍’‍’ In addition to that, Marc and I can also say that we launched multi-million dollar jets off an aircraft carrier dressed as Hashtag Panda. Not a bad way to end seven months away from friends and family.”

To watch the Hastag Panda Jet Launch, click here: https://youtu.be/QnqyZmQzYJY

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