Veteran Salute: Service on aircraft carrier deck and beyond

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is described as the most dangerous working environment in the world.

Chet Sweet said his wise mother walked him to the door one day and asked, “What do you see?”

The world was the answer she was looking for, and then he said he she mentioned you are going to have to find your way in it.

Sweet did just that, and his life of service started in the Navy.

“I just wanted to record it,” Navy Veteran Chet Sweet said.

That’s exactly what Sweet did, from behind the lens, when he wore this sailor uniform.

Sweet wanted to be a photographers mate, and it didn’t take him long to figure out, the recruiter fibbed when he said there were no open spots for the aspiring photographer, yet.

“Then he showed me a picture of launching aircraft and I said, ‘yes I love aviation, I will do that,’ but I didn’t realize it was 20 hours a day, covered in jet fuel,” Sweet said.

His schooling started on dry land, in this hangar where the Hindenberg was once kept.

He said the sailors learned on a mock flight deck inside.

“Actually clouds would form near the open door and sprinkle inside the building, it was so large,” Sweet said.

In no time, he was on the USS Forrestal.

“When you first go up, you actually have to hold hands with another man, because there is so much going on, in such a small place,” Sweet said.

Sweet was ship company and spent all of his time on the same ship.

He said you have to work your way up.

“I was underneath the planes, when I first got there, because that is the worst job,” Sweet said.

He said one job made you really realize jet power.

“It jars your bones, I mean it is after burners and you are feet away from that thing,” Sweet said.

Although he filled all the roles, one really had his attention.

“You had the ultimate responsibility and you’re basically the one pulling the trigger,” Sweet said.

Sweet’s talking about his favorite role, deck edge operator.

“When the plane is there and you are ready to launch it, you push the button and that’s what makes it take off,” Sweet said.

Aircraft sure fly off the ship, quickly.

“From zero to 160 miles an hour, in two and half seconds,” Sweet said.

While planes are taking off on a carrier, they are also landing.

“From a 160 miles per hour, it stops in 8 feet, so it is quite a bang,” Sweet said.

Aircraft are also constantly being moved around the ship.

“When you were talking to somebody, your head never stopped moving,” Sweet said.

He said the action went on, all day, and all night.

“Everything is moving around, and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, and you are launching aircraft, just by flash light cones,” Sweet said.

He said at one time they were involved in the NATO military exercise, Northern Wedding, near Iceland.

“What would happen would be the ship would be pointing straight down into the water,” Sweet said.

He says sometimes the waves would reach up to 30 foot.

“It was kind of like standing in a wal-mart parking lot and the entire parking lot is going like this and you are launching aircraft in that,” Sweet said.

He said they saw so many countries.

“You’d be going along and you’d hear over the intercom, you see that little sliver of land over there, that’s the Virgin Islands,” Sweet said.

He said they did a lot of snorkeling, when the sailors occasionally got some time to relax.

Sweet said there were 5,000 men on board, and they were crammed about fifty to a room, and they were surrounded by steel.

“We were playing some football, out on the flight deck and it was hard to keep hold of the ball,” Sweet said.

Sweet has so many fond memories from his time in the Navy.

He remembers when President Gerald Ford and his daughter were on board for a special ceremony.

“I told one guy, hey we got pretty good seats, and he said, what you don’t realize is that we are all standing here, in case someone in another boat tries to shoot him, they are going to get us, instead of him,” Sweet said.

He said it was very exciting to see the ships in the New York Harbor, but they also knew exactly what job they had to do on the carrier.

“Aircraft carriers go to keep the peace, by the threat of violence,” Sweet said.

He said they would go out to sea for weeks at a time, and in his years of service, he witnessed four crashes while on board.

“My first moment of consciousness after that, basically I was the second guy on the fire hose,” Sweet said.

Sweet is talking about the night a plane lost communication with the ship.

“It hit and it hit two other planes as it was careening off the edge, in a ball of fire,” Sweet said

The accident killed two, and severely injured 10 others.

He said many of the sailors lost limbs, during the blast.

“One of the guys who one of the legs belonged to came by on a stretcher and still to this day when I am at work and we are doing military honors, then I have a certain star I focus on, and think of him,” Sweet said.

Sweet is still serving others.

He’s the manager at the Kansas Veterans Cemetery in Winfield, where heroes and their families are remembered.

“It’s an honorable profession, and I am proud to be a part of it,” Sweet said.

He said he is also proud he signed up to serve.

“Launching aircraft from sun up until sun down,” Sweet said.

He’s also thankful he captured so many of the once in a lifetime opportunities, along the way.

“Some of this stuff you look back on, you know, you just truly appreciate later on more than you did at the time, because you know a lot of times you are just working 20 hours a day,” Sweet said.

He said he had a close call on deck.

He said one time he was standing up and a plane turned on him and blew him down the deck.

Sweet said he went rolling, until his headset line caught him, and jerked him back.

He said that headset saved him from rolling off the ship.

Sweet said when he got out of the Navy, he went on to college and then tried to go back into the service as an officer, but the Vietnam war was over and they were only taking people who were focused on Engineering and Math.

Sweet has a family history of service, as well.

His father served in the Navy, and his brother is a Retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant.

Sweet and his wife also traveled the world sharing their vocal talents, as part of a gospel group for thirty years.

He said they saw 32 states, in addition to foreign countries.

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