The ABH rate (Aviation Boatswain’s Mate) consists of working on Navy Flight Decks, or if you’re lucky, you may get stationed on shore duty working the flight lines. But most likely, you will be heading to a place that starts with the letters “USS”. Your job consists of the blue shirt, the yellow shirt and the red shirt. Each color has a specific job ranging from manual labor handling aircraft to emergency operations in case of fire.
The blue shirts enjoy the views of the flight deck, with chains in one hand and orange chalks in the other. They wait for the helos or jets to land and then run out under the belly of the beast to tie them down. That’s job one. The next job is to hook up tow bars to the main wheels of the aircraft, and drive the dolly towing the aircraft to the parking spot on the flight deck (or on to the aircraft elevator so that it may get sent down to the hanger bay). Those are the two big jobs of the blue shirt, but you will have a lot of other jobs as well, from custodian, to aircraft flight deck watches and maintenance of your work spaces (such as checking CO2 bottles and upkeep of your flight vest). Blue shirts also are given a lot of the manual labor jobs in working parties. There may be times, whether in-port or at sea, when the ship requires extra manpower in the supply department – to help on-load supplies to replenish the ship. You as a blue shirt are the junior person and will be called upon to fill this position.
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The yellow shirt is the next step up from the blue shirt, once you get all your qualifications as a blue shirt. Also, if you’re a senior enlisted member, you can become a yellow shirt right away. The yellow shirt directs the traffic. Consider it the Navy’s version of the crosswalk guard. However, instead of directing people through crosswalks, you will be directing aircraft from the parking spots to the launch areas. You will need to learn basic hand directing signals to communicate with the pilots as well. You will be responsible for making sure that all jets get onto the catapult for launch and also directing the movement of the aircraft on board the flight deck or in the hanger bay. When you become an E-7, the yellow shirt role will change and you will now become responsible for all operations on the flight deck (including personnel), making sure that everyone is safe and all procedures are followed.
The ABH rate would not be complete without the red shirt. When you’re in the middle of the ocean, and a jet catches on fire, dialing 911 does not work like it does onshore. The red shirts will come to the rescue. These personnel are trained in firefighting skills, including rescue of service members from burning aircraft to actually putting the aircraft fire out. Red shirts are also trained in CPR in case they come across an immediate emergency situation that needs quick response before the medics can get up to the flight deck.
If you’re already in the Navy, you may be asking where are the purple shirts, the green shirts, and all the other shirts? These fall under the aviation rate, but not the ABH’s.
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When deciding to pursue this type of career in the civilian world, remember that you will be required to lift heavy objects. Lifting and manual labor is part of the job with any of the shirts, blue, yellow or red.
You just spent four or more years in the Navy as an ABH, what can you do once you get out? Your job experience will give you all the credentials needed to work at an airport as the person walking the plane out of the gate (or driving the dolly to push the airplane out of the gate).
Another great place for work would be to find a Fixed Based Operator at the local airport. FBOs are always looking for help when it comes to dealing with aircraft during day-to-day operations. You can also see if the actual airlines are hiring. Airlines are very good at utilizing veterans to fill positions. Our proven track record (having shown once that we can be trusted to do our job, and show up to work on time) is an asset to high pressure airlines.
If you want to stay with the government and work in the ABH rate, there are employment options as well. When you were training to become an ABH at your “A” or “C” school, your instructors were qualified in the field (with some of them wearing civilian attire). Employment as a civilian instructor in one of the Navy schools may be available.
Joshua Kelly is a 13-year United States Navy Veteran. Joshua holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Science and Math. Along with several military decorations, Joshua was certified as a Community College of the Air Force Instructor. Joshua is currently self-employed with Dakota Weather Consultants.
“I am passionate about the military way of life and also the self-employed way of the future, and of course, the weather. You will find me, every day, running my weather consulting firm when I am not spending time with my family. I enjoy sharing information by writing to help others prepare themselves and learn from my experiences”. Joshua Kelly