Nice set of orders when you can get them. French warships have bars on them you know.
U.S. Navy Lt. Patrick Salmon is getting ready for another day at work, strapping himself into the cockpit of his strike jet and roaring off this French aircraft carrier for his daily attack mission against Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces.
He'll be launched into action by Kyle A. Caldwell, another U.S. Navy lieutenant who operates the flattop's catapult systems. When Salmon is ready to set his plane back on deck, yet a third U.S. Navy lieutenant, Philip Hoblet, will be standing by in a French rescue helicopter, hovering just off the ship's bow in case any of the returning pilots are forced to ditch into the sea.
They are members of a little-known French-American naval exchange program in which U.S. officers spend time in the French navy — known as the "Marine Nationale" — and French officers spend time in the U.S. navy.
"Because French carrier pilots are trained in the United States, this helps a lot with standardization of procedures," said Cmdr. Matthew Hogan, 44. "We're very comfortable operating with each other."
Hogan, who is nine months into a two-year posting at the naval base of Toulon in the south of France, serves on the flattop as a staff officer for Rear Adm. Philippe Coindreau, commander of the French fleet conducting the airstrikes against Libya.
The carrier, known in the navy by its nickname "Le Grand Charles," began reconnaissance flights over Libya on March 22. Attack missions followed almost immediately, and the ship has acted as the tip of the spear for NATO s aerial campaign ever since.
France currently has only a single carrier in its inventory, while the U.S. operates 11 of the floating air bases. The French therefore long ago decided it wasn't cost-effective to organize a training program of their own for their pilots, but rely instead on U.S. Navy training.That last part makes Mrs. Salamander shake her head. As far as she is concerned - a woman only needs a paycheck coming in - she can take care of the rest living in the French Riviera.
French naval aviators and some support personnel regularly head to U.S. Navy bases in Mississippi and Florida to learn carrier operations.
The four American officers serving aboard live in or near the base in Toulon, but only Hoblet has his family with him. The others say they spend too much time at sea to make it worthwhile for their wives and children to relocate to a foreign country.