USS Lincoln sailor arrives home after 10 months on aircraft carrier

After serving the last 10 months aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, Brady native AME2 Charles Hodges returned home Sunday for a week of rest and relaxation. An aircraft mechanic specializing in the ejection seats and environmental control systems of F-18 fighter jets, Hodges is one of a crew of more than 5,000, who played an active and vital role in both Operation Southern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom. For the past 10 months, Hodges and his shipmates have endured shift work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the exception of about 29 days when the ship’s crew enjoyed shore leave, most of which was in Australia. After being at sea for the longest deployment in history, he and the crew of the carrier were firsthand witnesses to another part of history when on May 1, Pres. George W. Bush landed aboard the carrier in a S-3 jet and personally addressed the crew and the nation from the flight deck. “The two most memorable days of the entire trip were the day the President landed on board and the day the admiral informed us we were headed home,” said Hodges. “I actually got to shake the President’s hand. It was just a brief handshake in passing, but it was definitely a day I will always remember. “Only essential personnel were on deck when Pres. Bush arrived, but after he went below to change, everything went back to normal. He changed out of his flight suit then came back up and actually spent quite a bit of time visiting with the crew. He was very approachable and friendly to everyone on board.” As an aircraft jet mechanic on board the carrier, Hodges’ daily routine consisted of constant inspections and repairs of onboard climate control systems and maintenance of ejector seats. The F-18s are equipped with sophisticated oxygen generating systems that supply pilots with breathable oxygen by converting nitrogen from the jet engine combustion into breathable oxygen. The ejection seats are deployed via explosive charges so special training and certifications were part of Hodges initial training. “Once we found out we were going to war, I actually upgraded my ordinance qualifications and began arming and loading bombs for the jets,” he said. “A couple of times after the jets returned from their missions, we were actually allowed to view the planes’ camera films of the bombing runs and see the bombs we had just loaded doing their job. It gave us all a real sense of pride in our work.” Hodges, the son of Jimmy Hodges and Clair Newlin, is a 1991 graduate of Rochelle High School. He first entered the service as a United States Marine. After a two-year break, he enlisted the Navy in 1999 and has been on active duty ever since. “I have been fortunate to see a lot of things while being in the navy,” said Hodges, “but after being at sea for 10 months, even a ship as big as the USS Abraham Lincoln seems to get very small.” While on board for the past 10 months, Hodges worked one of two shifts in a 24-hour period. “I worked the second shift which started at 5:30 p.m. and ended around 6 a.m. We worked that shift rotation 24/7. When the war actually began, things stepped up quite a bit. We had planes continuously taking off and landing for the first 72 hours without a break. Then we would have two or three-hour breaks in the middle of the night, and then we would fire things back up around 5 a.m.” When he wasn’t on duty, Hodges spent a lot of his time trying to catch up on much needed sleep. “You sleep when you can,” he said. “My berth was a section I shared with 101 other guys. If I wasn’t sleeping, I would go to the gym, the library or go watch the news or a movie. It was sometimes hard to get away from everybody, but it was something you had to do every now and then.” His enlistment in the Navy is over in November. He is undecided whether he will extend for another tour. With only a few days left on his leave before heading back to prepare for the ship’s next deployment, Hodges is concentrating on enjoying his time off. He ended up Wednesday afternoon of all places’back on the water at Brady Lake on a fishing trip with his father, Jimmy. “I kind of hope I don’t catch anything,” he said. “If you catch something, that means there’s work to do, and all I want to do now is relax and enjoy visiting with my friends and family. “All in all throughout the length of this deployment, our crew had probably 29 days or so that we were actually able to be on land somewhere,” said Hodges. “It is sure nice to be back home.” Notes of interest about the USS Abraham Lincoln: ‘ Displacement: approx. 100,000 tons full load ‘ Speed: 35 knots ‘ Cost: about $3.5 billion ‘ Planes: approx. 85 ‘ Sodas cosumed each day: 13,000 ‘ Milk consumed each day: 660 gallons ‘ Length of each anchor chain: 1,082 feet ‘ Weight of each chain link: 365 pounds ‘ Weight of an entire anchor chain: 308,000 pounds ‘ Number of rudders: two ‘ Weight of each rudder: approx. 45.5 tons ‘ Dimensions of rudders: 29 x 22 feet

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