Rising out of a “rack” at 04:30 is the start to a typical day aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. Currently stationed in the Persian Gulf, Wauwatosa native Seaman Alex Kleinke gets out of bed early every day to perform his duties maintaining the ship's helicopters.
Kleinke is an aviation structural mechanic in the U.S. Navy and is responsible for repairing items like the helicopter's outer skin, rotor blades and various pumps. A copter comes back from a mission and he and his team get it ready for the next flight.
“Every mission is dangerous, especially for the pilots.” Kleinke said. “A bird comes back and we fix it and send it out again.”
The Eisenhower provides a wide range of flexible mission capabilities including maritime security operations, crisis response, deterrence, counter-terrorism, and information operations.
The copters are a vital component of the Ike and run daily missions like search and rescue operations and vertical replenishment (supply runs). Each time a copter comes back to the ship it gets a fresh coat of paint and an overall inspection.
Corrosion from the salt in the ocean, sand in the rotors and even birds cracking windshields keep Kleinke going throughout his 12-hour day. Kleinke fixes tires, looks for hydraulic pump cracks and inspects the rotor system.
Before he joined the Navy, Kleinke said he had virtually no experience doing anything like his current duties.
“I entered the military to help pay for college,” Kleinke said. “Before I came here, I did not even know how to work on a car.”
Kleinke grew up in the neighborhood surrounding Wauwatosa West High School, where he graduated from in 2013. He has fond memories of Wauwatosa and said he misses his family and going to football games, but has accepted the fact that he will be far away from home for an extended period of time.
“You have to give up on the idea of personal privacy,” Kleinke said. “We sleep in close quarters and the food is not always that of a five-star restaurant.”
But despite the challenges, Kleinke knows he is better for this experience and is fine with the long days and a few banged-up knuckles. His tour began June 1 and will be over in a month or two. The self-described family man is looking forward to coming home and using his new skills in a good job.
“I want to give a shout out to my mom and dad,” Kleinke said. “Tell them I miss them.”