NORFOLK, Va. -- A 2012 Manatee High School graduate and Bradenton native is serving on one of the world's largest warships, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Nieko Randazzo, 21, is a culinary specialist aboard the Norfolk-based, Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier -- one of only 10 operational aircraft carriers in the Navy.
Named in honor of former President George H.W. Bush, the supercarrier is longer than three football fields at nearly 1,100 feet long. The ship, commissioned in 2009, is 252 feet wide and weighs more than 100,000 tons. Two nuclear reactors can push the ship through the water at more than 35 mph.
As a sailor with numerous responsibilities, Randazzo said he is learning about himself as a leader, sailor and a person. He said it is an exciting time to be in the Navy, and serving aboard a ship is something he never expected to be doing just a couple years ago.
"I joined the Navy for several reasons. I wanted to serve my country and at the same time get some discipline, structure and critical civilian skills," said Randazzo.
He also said he is proud of the work he is doing as part of the Bush's 6,000-member crew, protecting America on the world's oceans.
"The Navy is important in attaining the skills and training for a successful career and at the same time protect our country," said Randazzo.
Approximately 3,200 men and women make up the ship's company, which keeps all parts of the aircraft carrier running smoothly doing everything from washing dishes and preparing meals to handling weaponry and maintaining nuclear reactors. Another 2,500 or so form the air wing, the people who actually fly and maintain the aircraft.
"I never cease to be impressed with the type and quality of work that goes on aboard this ship each day," said Capt. Andrew Loiselle, commanding officer. "The USS George H.W. Bush team is filled with highly qualified young adults -- in many cases, 19 and 20 years old --
and they're out here running a complex propulsion system safely, serving as air traffic controllers, operating sophisticated electronics, launching and recovering aircraft when we're underway and keeping this floating city alive and functioning. I can't express how proud I am to be a part of this team.
They performed at the highest level, day in and day out during our recent 9-month combat deployment and are continuing to do so here at home. Their professionalism, dedication and commitment to excellence are second to none."
USS George H.W. Bush, 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 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. The planes land aboard the carrier by snagging a steel cable with an arresting hook from the rear of the aircraft.
All of this makes the George H.W. Bush a self-contained mobile airport and strike platform, and often the first response to a global crisis because of a carrier's ability to operate freely in international waters anywhere on the world's oceans.
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy's top assets, Randazzo and other USS George H.W. Bush sailors are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes.
"The Navy is a first-responder anywhere in world, keeping the global sea lanes open and commerce flowing around the world," said Randazzo.