ARABIAN SEA –
Lt. Amy Blades-Langjahr, from Casper, Wyoming, was launched from USS Nimitz on a C-2 Greyhound for her last flight in the fleet Aug. 3.
The only female Flying Chief Warrant Officer ever commissioned in the U.S. Navy rose from the ranks before retiring at the end of her “Shooter” tour, a career that spanned the entire Global War on Terror.
“I was on the USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) and we were pulling out for COMPTUEX (composite unit training exercise), September 11, 2001,” said Blades-Langjahr. “We were in the harbor being turned around by the tugs. The second plane hit when we were in the jetties. We had port calls in Saint Thomas lined up. We had a Mediterranean deployment; not even going to 5th fleet.”
After spending close to two months at sea, Blades-Langjahr returned to port and found that the world had changed in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center. This was also a difficult time for the crew of Kennedy, who had recently failed an inspection.
Blades-Langjahr said the crew did not pass their Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). INSURV is a congressionally mandated inspection of U.S. Navy ships to thoroughly check damage control ability and the ship’s material conditions to ensure ultimate mission readiness.
Kennedy divided the crew into two sections, port and starboard, to accomplish the repairs and maintenance needed to get out to sea again.
“We were working twelve hours a day, seven days a week, twelve on, twelve off, port and starboard crew,” said Blades-Langjahr. “We had a full night check and a full day-check, the whole ship was working 24 hours a day. All the way through Thanksgiving. We didn't get Thanksgiving. All the way through Christmas.”
It was difficult, because a lot of the crew was not able to travel home for Christmas because of certain geographical restrictions.
“January rolls around, and I'm up to reenlist,” said Blades-Langjahr. “I wasn't going to do it. I was hard
set against it.”
Her deadline to re-enlist was February 2, or she would be out of the Navy.
“January 31, my chief sits me down,” said Blades-Langjahr. “And he said to me, 'Why are you getting out? How big do you think the Navy is?'”
Her chief prompted her to think about different ships, potential duty stations and different opportunities the Navy could provide.
“My chief said, 'The Navy is bigger than one ship. The Navy is bigger than one INSURV failure. There are countless places that you could go and never be at the same place twice in a naval career. Why are you stopping now?’”
“So, I walked down to the career counselors' office and I put my reenlistment papers in, three days before my EAOS,” said Blades-Langjahr.
Her drive to see the next thing and push forward has led her to a career littered with firsts.
Blades-Langjahr started breaking ground early in her career. As an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class, she secured herself a backseat ride in an EA-6B Prowler, despite not being a rate that had any business in that aircraft.
When asked why she pressed for the ride, Blades-Langjahr said, “Because people told me I couldn't!”
This motivated her to take leave in order to complete the required survival swimming and aviation physiology courses on her own time. The request had to go to the Chief of Naval Operations for approval, and she sent it two before she was scheduled to leave for a deployment. One month before that six-month deployment ended that her request was returned: approved.
Blades-Langjahr shattered the normal again when she was accepted into the Flying Chief Warrant Officer program. This Navy program, which ran from 2006 to 2014, sought highly qualified, motivated Sailors between the paygrades of E-5 and E-7 to commission as Chief Warrant Officers and become Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers (NFO). To be eligible, personnel must have held a secret security clearance, hold an Associate's Degree, and be able to commission by the time they were 27 for pilots or 29 for NFOs.
She submitted her application in 2006, but was not selected. She applied again the following year, and would go on to commission in April of 2008.
“It felt like a wonderful accomplishment to be selected overall,” said Blades-Langjahr. “I looked at every result, tried to see if there was going to be another female selected, but it just never happened.”
Out of 49 candidates, she was the only female selected for a program that lasted about 7 years.
“Yeah, I’m the only female, but I’m still a flying warrant,” said Blades-Langjahr. “I still have to perform with my fellow flying warrants. I still have to work in the same capacity, and not be viewed as different.”
She attended a month of Chief Warrant Officer Indoctrination, followed by Initial Flight Screening, and then Aviation Preflight Indoctrination before going to Training Squadron 4 (VT-4) in Pensacola, Florida, and then Patrol Squadron 30 (VP-30), based in Jacksonville, Florida. Upon completion of her training at VP-30, Blades-Langjahr had earned her wings as an NFO.
Her first fleet squadron was Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron VQ-2 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., where she stayed until VQ-2 was decommissioned and absorbed by VQ-1 in 2012. Six months later, now a Chief Warrant Officer 3, Blades-Langjahr moved on to the Aviation Survival Training Center at Whidbey Island, where she would spend three years as an instructor and department head. When the Flying Chief Warrant Officer program was terminated in 2014, Blades-Langjahr was given a choice: remain in the Chief Warrant Officer track as a Chief Warrant Officer 4, and be shifted into a different rate where she didn't feel she'd be competitive for further promotion, or transition into the officer career track as a Lieutenant.
“Instead of laying down and dying, I decided to fight and try to go past 20, which I did,” said Blades-Langjahr.
She was also the first winged naval flight officer to serve as a department head at the Aviation Survival Training Center.
Upon attaining the rank of Lieutenant, Blades-Langjahr explained that she was told she needed a Bachelor's Degree to continue her career. She began working on her Fire, Arson, and Explosion degree.
At this time, she was assigned to USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78). After eight months aboard the Ford, she became pregnant with her first daughter. She then transferred to Fleet Forces in Norfolk, and stayed for just over three years. During this time, she had her second daughter, and completed her degree.
From there, she came to USS Nimitz (CVN 68), where she'll retire with 22 years of service.
“It never ceases to amaze me how much life changes,” said Blades-Langjahr, reflecting upon the story of her career.
When asked about her favorite roles held over the course of her career, Blades-Langjahr gave two answers. The first was the role of “yellow shirt” aircraft director. The yellow shirt, she explained, is the only authority aboard an aircraft carrier who can move an aircraft, which, for junior enlisted, is an unheard-of amount of responsibility.
The second has been as a “Shooter,” or catapult officer, who “shoot” aircraft off the flight deck. “Who gets to do that?” said Blades-Langjahr.
With 22 years of service, rising through the ranks from an Airman Recruit all the way to Lieutenant, fighting through all the twists and turns along the way, always hungry for the next challenge, Blades-Langjahr offered this advice for the next generation: “Never find yourself without a PQS (personnel qualification standard) in hand. Even if you're fully qualified for your particular job, keep going.”
“I was an E-4,” she explained, “Crash chief qualified, because I never stopped.”
Blades-Langjahr took anything she could get her fingers on to become qualified in.
“And that's how it works,” she said. “You just keep grabbing on to things to make your evaluation better than the guy sitting next to you. And that's how you succeed, and that's how you keep that motivation and drive to push past normal.”
Blades-Langjahr's second piece of advice is to never accept “no” as the first answer, unless it can be backed up in writing. Opportunities are there, even if the person you're asking doesn't know about them. “So, don't stop asking questions.”
Nimitz, the flagship of Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region. The 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The expanse is comprised of 20 countries and includes three chokepoints, critical to the free flow of global commerce.