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Prunedale’s Brandi Holland works in one of the most uniquely dangerous job environments in the world. High speed winds caused by landing airplanes and the open Pacific Ocean whip her body and mind. Multimillion dollar aircraft screech to a halt just feet from her post. The deck of planes she helps orchestrate, which is often littered with more than 50 aircrafts sits 17 stories above the water without a single safety fence. With a little inattention she could easily be blown over the side.

“If you lose your head at any given moment,” she says, “you could also lose your life.”

The aircraft landing deck workplace is also the roof of Holland’s home, a city on the sea with a population of about 5,500, nearly the same as Carmel Valley. The USS George Washington has just about everything an actual town might, including a barbershop, six gyms and a 7 Eleven. There’s an in house television broadcast system, a weekly newspaper and five different denominations of religious services.

But as Holland makes clear, “There are no bowling alleys or swimming pools, like everyone seems to think.” Despite the five separate dining areas, she adds, the food she enjoys most while on board is the mac ‘n’ cheese she gets sent from home even ahead of the occasional special Sunday meals. (“Last week was lobster and steak,” Lt. Cmdr. Dave Hecht says. “There’s nothing like surf ‘n’ turf in the middle of the ocean.”)

Holland graduated from North Monterey County High School in 2008 and immediately joined the Navy. She is one of very few female Monterey County recruits; in 2010, there were only 15 recruits from the county.

“I wanted to see the world,” she says. “The Navy seemed like a good way.”

So far so good: She’s already been to Brazil, Chile, Guam, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and her favorite, Singapore.

But before she boarded her new home,
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she had to go through nine months of extensive training and six weeks at boot camp.

“Boot camp is demanding,” she says. “It is a physical and emotional strain.”


During boot camp, sailors complete a gauntlet of physical tests: sit ups, push ups and distance running under time limits. “But the hardest part is just to be away from your family,” she says.

On board the George Washington, one of Holland’s duties has been to move pieces on the so called “Ouija board,” a huge replica of the flight deck. Since World War II, this spread of tokens representing every aircraft, machine and person on the deck has graced the flight deck control centers of aircraft carriers around the globe. It’s a rudimentary yet effective tool used to ensure the safe spacing of those flying to and from and working on the deck, a system that provides an up to date picture of what the deck looks like at all times.

Today Holland says the toughest thing about living on a boat for months on end is the same as boot camp: Being away from family. This Thanksgiving will be her third on board. But it’s not without its fun. The average age on board is 26. Holland says she met her best friend on board and enjoys her time off.

“Some days we play volleyball on deck, making sure the ball doesn’t blow over, of course,” she says

Volleyball days are called “Steel Beach Picnics,” which can include barbecues and inflatable pools. At night they most frequently watch movies, play cards and compete in fantasy sports.

Her sleeping situation doesn’t sound ideal, but she figures it could be worse. Holland lives in a room with 45 other women and sleeps on a “bottom rack,” the lowest mattress in a three tiered bunk. The bottom sleeper is the luckiest, she says, as she gets the most closet space with a “coffin locker” under the bed.

“It’s an unfortunate name, but really great to have the extra storage space,” she says.

Every now and then she gets off the ship and spends time in the port towns of other countries. She usually has four or five days to be on her own, wandering the cities, eating good food and going out with friends.

Another perk: Dolphins,
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flying fish and amazing sunsets providing wonder just off the deck. Not so perky: The threat of war lingering somewhere in the back of her head. But she says these simple scenes help her get through.

Another aspect to this specific life at sea: It can get so loud she can’t hear herself think. “The sounds of aircraft being propelled from the ship and landing 24/7 can give a person a headache.” she says. “We are literally living underneath an airport runway.”