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Carrier conducts at-sea nerve gas drill

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    Sentries stood on the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan Tuesday as the aircraft carrier pulled out of Pearl Harbor. An onboard drill yesterday tested the crew’s ability to respond to a nerve gas attack. The Ronald Reagan is among 32 ships participating in separate Rim of the Pacific naval exercises.
    Pilot Lt. Matt Suyderhoud, left, and flight officer Lt. Matt McKonough operate an F/A-18F Super Hornet. Suyderhoud is a 2001 Maryknoll High School graduate from Hawaii Kai. They are in the pilot ready room and sitting in their assigned seats.
    Aviation electronics techs Ryan Kinnard, left, and Rachelann Gutierrez looked for a biohazard in the hangar bay of the USS Ronald Reagan yesterday during a shipwide drill.

ABOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN » A missile packing nerve gas "hit" a U.S. aircraft carrier yesterday, leaving the floating city scant seconds to respond.

That was the time allotted for crew to don gas masks in the simulated attack as the 1,092-foot carrier sailed 230 miles southwest of Oahu.

The carrier’s crew then had 12 minutes to close a series of hatches to protect against the attack.

The San Diego-based USS Ronald Reagan is participating in "Rim of the Pacific" naval exercises, and conducted the nerve gas drill as part of separate but simultaneous training.

"We train for any possible contingency," said Lt. Cmdr. Ron Flanders, a spokesman for the Reagan. "The fact is there are countries out there that possess these types of weapons."

The Reagan practices once a week for emergencies such as missile strikes, fires and flooding.

Flanders said yesterday’s nerve gas attack drill was unusual in that Navy fleet evaluators were aboard.

"We’re still in RIMPAC, but even as that goes on we have to do these other things because it’s an annual requirement," Flanders said.

An alert came over the carrier’s public address system just after 8 a.m.: "Man your battle stations."

Capt. Ron Ravelo, the Reagan’s executive officer, said over the address system later that the "majority of the ship did a great job."

The nerve gas training came as the Reagan continues day and night flight operations ahead of anti-submarine and surface warfare exercises that are part of RIMPAC.

Lt. Matt Suyderhoud, 27, who grew up in Hawaii Kai and now flies an F/A-18 Super Hornet, said all the shipboard activity is OK with him.

"It’s great. I get a lot of flying time, and to work with other countries and ships," he said.

Fourteen nations, 32 ships and 20,000 personnel are participating in the biennial RIMPAC exercises in and near Hawaii waters.

Suyderhoud is with Strike Fighter Squadron 154, the Black Knights. The Maryknoll graduate has a twin brother, Navy Lt. Johan Suyderhoud, who flies Super Hornets out of Japan.

"It’s what I’ve always wanted to do," Matt Suyderhoud said of flying the Navy jets.


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