ARABIAN GULF (NNS) — Each branch of the U.S. armed forces has its own distinct mission capabilities, but the overall mission across the military is the same when it comes to protecting the interests of the nation and preserving freedom throughout the world.
As U.S. Army Capt. Nathan Gunter and U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Miller traverse the passageways of aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), they are often met with questions and curious stares because it's not often one sees Army personnel aboard a Navy ship.
In July, as the Navy's oldest aircraft carrier entered the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Gunter and Miller embarked Nimitz to serve as liaisons between coalition forces on the ground and the aviators of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Their job as ground liaison officers (GLO) is to brief pilots on information from ground forces such as radio frequencies, missions, and location of friendly forces and enemy contacts.
"The Sailors are curious about what I do," said Gunter. "I'm out here to ensure the pilots who are going to fly over the beach have all the information they need to be successful and execute their mission, whether it's in Iraq or Syria."
Both Gunter and Miller have boots-on-ground experience and understand the importance of combining forces to reach a greater goal.
"When I was in Afghanistan in 2011, I had Navy jets come on station that provided a close-air support role for us," said Gunter. "I wanted to make sure that if I ever got the opportunity, I'd give the pilots the best and most current information as possible so that way they don't show up not knowing what's going on in theater."
"Typically I am with an infantry unit on the ground, on the frontline sitting up on an observation point watching the enemy," said Miller. "I radio in support and watch their rounds impact before adjusting them onto the target."
Gunter and Miller said their experiences have improved their ability to help the Navy communicate with Soldiers on the ground and execute their mission more quickly and effectively.
"We have reach-back capabilities all the way down to the commander on the ground," said Miller. "We're saving the pilots the research time and saving them some miscommunication potential."
The GLOs are an invaluable conduit for information to support the air wing mission.
"Having the GLO team to provide a direct connection to troops on the ground is imperative to our mission success," said Lt. Matthew Perry, a pilot from the "Black Knights" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 154, part of CVW 11 embarked on Nimitz. "During each flight brief the GLOs break down the current ground picture and explain the situation, which enables us to give the best support to our ground forces."
For Gunter, being on an aircraft carrier has sentimental value. In 1951, his grandfather served aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Boxer (CV 21) - the ship forever ingrained in the Navy's rich history when it launched the first carrier-based jet aircraft.
"No one else in our family had ever been on a carrier since my grandfather, but now I've been on a carrier," said Gunter. "So now I have a shared history with my grandfather."
Miller is a six-year Navy veteran, having served on a submarine as a fire control technician in the '90s. He said he sees being aboard Nimitz as a great way to bookend his career in the U.S. armed forces, as he will soon retire.
"The Nimitz has been awesome," said Miller. "I've felt at home here. When I go back to Langley, I will take back with me a better understanding and appreciation of what the Navy does."
Gunter and Miller said they were well received by the Sailors and Marines aboard Nimitz and will miss the nuances of ship life after they leave.
"I'll miss the people," said Gunter. "The Sailors I've met who work in hotel services, the cooks, folks in the [information systems] department, folks turning the wrenches, Sailors down below making water and keeping the reactor cool or on the bridge driving the ship. I'll miss the friends that I've made."
Together the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines aboard Nimitz work to answer the nation's call as one comprehensive team.