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Most 22-year-olds are just beginning to find their way in life, but Navy Seaman Christopher Jennings plays a key role in helping the U.S. Navy keep stability in the Pacific.

Jennings, a 2007 graduate of Big Sky High School, is currently serving a three-year deployment as an aviation electrician on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

Jennings is charged with maintaining the electrical systems of multi-million dollar aircraft. He takes quite seriously his job of keeping the pilots safe and keeping their planes in top flying condition.

"If we mess something up, the aircraft won't work right and (it could) possibly endanger the pilot," he said in a recent phone interview from onboard the carrier.

Jennings begins his day at 6 p.m. with a shower and quick meal before going to work. He spends the next 12 hours in the ship's shop working on sophisticated electronic equipment before going back to sleep. This cycle continues every day of the week.

Sailors on the USS George Washington do have some time for recreational opportunities. Jennings spends his limited amount of down time lifting weights, jogging on a treadmill and playing videogames.

Jennings said his motivation to join the Navy was the chance to attend college on the GI Bill and to see the world. That last part is fully under way, as he's already visited South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines.

Living in a cramped floating city of 5,500 people can be hard to adjust to, but Jennings quickly adapted to life on the sea.

In some ways, it's not exactly unfamiliar. The USS George Washington features two stores, a barber shop, a gym, five dining areas and a full service hospital. A newspaper is also published aboard the ship.

Still, spending six months at sea can get a little lonely, though Jennings stays in touch with his large family by email as often as he can. He said he really misses attending Griz football and Osprey baseball games.

One of the largest downsides of Navy life is the food, said Jennings. But that makes the enjoyment of his mom's cooking all the more special on visits back home.

Serving his country gives Jennings a sense of accomplishment and he said it feels good to have so many people proud of him.

"I may not be battling anybody today, but I am doing my part to protect my country," said Jennings.

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Lt. Cmdr. Dave Hecht, public affairs officer for the USS George Washington, said the primary role of the carrier is to maintain security and stability in Pacific region.

The importance of this mission was highlighted in March 2010 when North Korea sank the South Korean warship Cheonan. The attack in South Korean waters killed 46 sailors and greatly increased tensions between the already hostile countries.

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North Korean aggression moved both countries toward war, but the presence of the USS George Washington quickly de-escalated the situation, said Hecht.

The USS George Washington is the only carrier in the Navy fleet based outside the United States.

Hecht said the ship is permanently stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, because it would take three weeks to get a carrier to the region from the United States if an incident occurred.

Another important mission for Jennings and his comrades on the ship is to provide humanitarian relief after major natural disasters. The USS George Washington provided medical assistance and fresh water in the wake of the recent Japanese earthquake.

A single aircraft carrier can produce 400,000 gallons of fresh water daily from seawater, which is enough for 2,000 homes, said Hecht.

Intern reporter Mark Boatman can be reached at (406) 544-0138, mark.boatman@umontana.edu or at mark.boatman@missoulian.com.

 

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