Providing support for the "guys doing the hard work" and keeping people safe at home are high priorities for Interior Communications Electrician Third Class Amanda Beck of Vilonia. Beck works as a broadcast technician onboard the USS Ronald Reagan where she helps with the aircraft carrier’s television station as well as keeping television stations running for about 4,500 personnel on board.
The USS Ronald Reagan is now supporting ground troops in Afghanistan through air support. The carrier was deployed May 28 of this year for its fourth deployment in four years. Public Affairs Officer Lt. Cmdr. Ron Flanders said the carrier will hopefully return home in late October.
Beck’s job helps to provide information and entertainment for the other sailors on board. She said she helps with morale of those on the aircraft carrier by "getting new movies, keeping the channels playing and the satellites working."
"The admiral likes NASCAR," Beck said. "When everyone has TV, morale stays up."
Flanders said as a broadcast engineer over the ship’s television channels, Beck "becomes one of the most popular people here." "Sometime television is one of our few connections to back home," Flanders said. The average age of the sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan is 22, however, Flanders said many of the sailors are 18-19 years old.
In addition to keeping the satellite and television equipment running, Beck has a more serious part of her job. She maintains and installs security cameras as well as makes sure televisions used for ship operations briefings are up and running.
Beck is a graduate of Vilonia High School and attended the school district there from kindergarten. After graduation, she joined the Navy and was sent to school in Chicago.
"I spent a year learning my job," she said, describing her job as fun and something she enjoys.
As for life on the carrier, Beck said, "Some days it drives you crazy, but it is nice being out here."
Although the crew knows what is going on at home, the financial environment is different.
"The economy is not affecting us here. We are working away from everything that stresses you," Beck said.
Although the sailors may not have to worry about the economy, they do work about 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Flanders. "It is an incredible grind, but we are working to save lives in Afghanistan," he said. The F-18 Super Hornet jets that operate off of the ship fly a couple of hours to get to Afghanistan. They then offer support as needed to U.S., NATO and Afghani citizens. The USS Ronald Reagan is responsible for about one-third of the air support covering Afghanistan.
When the troops are not working or enjoying the six restaurants, the movie theater or television shows, they may be in their bunking area. Beck said her sleeping area is a large room of bunks that is shared by about 100 other women. The women on board also have community bathrooms.
"In the morning you may have to stand in line. It is not too bad, but it is not luxury. You don’t have a lot of space to store things. Your bed lifts up and you store things underneath the bed. You have to be smart with storage," Beck said.
Life is not all work for the sailors. Beck said she had some free time in both Singapore and Dubai.
"Both places are pretty hot. They were not at all what I am used to," Beck said. "It is different, sometimes it is a culture shock."
Beck is the daughter of George Beck of Vilonia and Mary Beck of Cabot. Her parents will be visiting during a Tiger Cruise in a few months.
As for what her parents think of her work on the USS Ronald Reagan, Beck said, "I am not sure they are aware how close to the war zone I am, but they think it is awesome. I miss my family a lot, but it is fun being out here."
Beck doesn’t plan to make the military her career, however, she said the service time is giving her the opportunity to finish her college education in forensic anthropology. She said she has received valuable job skills at no charge, but the skills are different than the ones she wants to learn through college.
"I enjoy the military. Some days are crazier than others, but I get to see things that lots of others do not normally see," she said. "The Navy is pretty interesting and is a good experience. I have had the opportunity to meet some awesome people and have a good experience. It is something I wouldn’t take back."