NORFOLK, Va. – A Charleston, South Carolina native and Booker T. Washington High School graduate, Petty Officer 3rd Class Shanell Keyes is serving on one of the world’s largest warships, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).
Keyes works as a boatswain’s mate aboard the Norfolk-based ship, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and one of only ten operational aircraft carriers in the Navy today. Boatswain’s mate are the sailors responsible for training, directing, and supervising personnel in ship’s maintenance duties.
“I like getting dirty,” said Keyes. “Being a boatswain’s mate keeps me busy all day.”
Sailors’ jobs are highly varied aboard Eisenhower. Approximately 3,200 men and women make up the ship’s company, and they keep all parts of the aircraft carrier running smoothly. They do everything from washing dishes and preparing meals to handling weaponry and maintaining the nuclear reactors. Another 2,000 sailors comprise the air wing, the people who fly and maintain the aircraft aboard the ship.
Eisenhower, like each of the Navy’s aircraft carriers, is designed for a 50-year service life. When the air wing is embarked, the ship carries more than 70 attack fighter jets, helicopters and other aircraft, all of which take off from and land aboard the carrier at sea. Powerful catapults slingshot the aircraft off the bow of the ship, and those planes land upon their return to the aircraft carrier by snagging a steel cable with an arresting hook that protrudes from the rear of the aircraft. All of this makes Eisenhower a self-contained mobile airport and strike platform, often the first response to a global crisis because of an aircraft carrier’s ability to operate freely in international waters anywhere on the world’s oceans.
“This command is a great learning experience,” said Keyes. “We get to work on something new everyday.”
Eisenhower was commissioned in 1977 and named after former president and Army general Dwight D. Eisenhower, who distinguished himself through service and leadership during World War II. As the supreme commander of Allied Forces in Western Europe during World War II, Eisenhower led the massive invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“Every Sailor aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower plays an integral part in our success, from the engineering and reactor spaces to the galley and flight deck, and everywhere in between, and I couldn’t be more proud,” said Capt. Paul Spedero, Jr., commanding officer of Ike. “Our many successes are built on their sacrifices and the strength they provide each and every day.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Keyes and other Eisenhower sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes.
“I knew I always wanted to serve in the Navy,” said Keyes. “I don’t think I realized how much I would enjoy the change of pace – I’m so glad I joined.”