River Rattlers Train on Board USS Theodore Roosevelt

River Rattlers Train on Board USS Theodore Roosevelt

The River Rattlers of Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 204 from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, conducted at-sea flight operations for the first time in 10 years aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Sept. 16-20.

The River Rattlers often play the enemy when they fly adversary support missions to help sharpen the skills of active fleet aviators.

The River Rattlers are also a key naval strategic reserve. They are the sole Navy Reserve strike fighter attack squadron and need to be able to launch and land on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier to fulfill all aspects of their mission.

“We have to maintain our strike fighter qualifications,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jack Stewart, a VFA-204 pilot. “Everything from close air support and typical strike fighter missions to carrier qualification. We are coming down here to show our squadron can go on the boat and be a viable strategic asset.”

The squadron provides the bulk of adversary support for the Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program and the Fleet Replacement Squadron, which makes it difficult to get time on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

“The last time VFA-204 was on a flight deck as a squadron was 2001,” said Stewart. “My last night trap was in 2005.”

A trap is an aircraft landing on a carrier’s flight deck using its arresting gear systems.

The River Rattlers jumped at the opportunity to train with Theodore Roosevelt and renew their qualifications once an opening appeared in their schedule.

“Pilots require a certain number of day and night traps in a certain periodicity,” said Capt. Zachary Hemly, Tactical Support Air Wing commander [VFA-204 is attached to the air wing]. “A lot of our guys haven’t been in a while so they have to get certified back up to where they need to be so they can go on a quick turn.”

The pilots aren’t the only ones rounding into form. The underway has been a great opportunity for the squadron’s maintenance personnel to hone their craft as well.

“The thing I enjoy most is a lot of these maintainers we brought with us had never seen a flight deck before we started training them,” said Lt. Brian Eberle, maintenance material control officer (MMCO) for VFA-204. “They are getting exposed to a whole different world they’ve never seen before. We are used to going to places like Key West [Fla.] and Fallon [Nev.] to go play adversary, so it’s good experience for them to see how the ship works and how the flight deck works.”

The opportunity to train aboard Theodore Roosevelt has been a welcome opportunity for Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (AW) Tom Graumann, a squadron maintenance person.

“It’s a nice change of pace,” said Graumann. “It’s not something we get to do often.”

As for the stress and danger of the flight deck, they are taking it in stride, said Graumann.

“F-18 work is F-18 work. It’s just a little crazier up there (on the flight deck),” said Graumann. “We know what we are doing as far as chains and all of that stuff. It’s just keeping your head on a swivel that’s the big thing.”

The River Rattlers will continue their busy schedule after leaving Theodore Roosevelt. They will travel to Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., and Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., to, once again, be the bad guys before flying home to New Orleans.

Press Release, September 23, 2013; Image: US Navy