Local man saving lives aboard US aircraft carrier; ‘I knew 100 percent the way I wanted to go’

MILWAUKEE -- After breakfast each morning, Dr. Nicholas Michols heads to his office for a full day of appointments like most doctors. But Michols’ workplace is a bit different from most physicians; he’s a family doctor on board an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Dr. Nicholas Michols

He’s one of several physicians throughout the Navy who put their lives on the line working in potentially dangerous situations day in and day out. Michols, a Wisconsin-native, entered the Navy straight out of high school.

He went to Nicolet High School and later graduated from West Bend.

“When I figured out I wanted to go into medicine and become a physician, I knew 100 percent the way I wanted to go,” said Michols.

Michols plays a key role in the health and safety of sailors on board aircraft carriers. He does everything from minor procedures, to check ups, to women’s health.

“I would say about 40 to 50 percent of all of our injuries or illnesses on the ship are muscular skeletal-related,” said Michols. “And after that, a good chunk is women’s health.”

But Michols and other doctors also prepare for the worst; in the case of an emergency on the ship or mass illness.

“This is for mass casualty,” said Michols, pointing to an area with several beds. “If we were deployed and let’s say we have a flu outbreak or that sort of thing, we have beds. We have isolation right here, a three bed ICU.”

The ship’s Commanding Officer is Captain Putnam Browne whose job is to oversee the warship, the thousands of sailors on board, and to make sure they’re executing the ship’s mission.

“We like to say we’ve got 5,000 people moving all in the same direction all within 1,000 feet of each other,” said Capt. Browne.

USS Abraham Lincoln

USS Abraham Lincoln

And with thousands of sailors moving around the ship, they’re constantly training for a variety of scenarios they could encounter while at sea.

USS Abraham Lincoln

While FOX 6 was on board the Lincoln, Captain Brown called a “man overboard” drill. All the sailors on board immediately followed their plan in place. While it was practice, the sailors will often do those types of drills preparing for worst-case scenarios.

A crucial part of their training is flight operations happening on the aircraft carrier deck.

“We are testing out our automated carrier landing system which allows the pilots to land in bad weather or should we have an aircraft or pilot emergency,” said Captain Browne.

USS Abraham Lincoln

Fellow Wisconsin-native Ian Bordagaray knows how important safety on the deck is during those flight operations. His main job? Safety on the flight deck.

Ian Bordagaray

The deck of an aircraft carrier is high-risk for many reasons, but most obvious, for the fact that aircraft come and go during several hours of the day. Many aircraft that land, use a specific method in which the aircraft has a hook that catches a cable on the carrier deck.

Bordagaray has seen pilots land aircraft perfectly, but he’s also seen fires on the deck.

“It’s very rare but it does happen,” he said. “That is what keeps everyone on their toes – that ‘what if’ factor to it.”

Most often, Bordagaray directs aircraft from their parked position to their launching position, or from recovery to their parked position.

“It’s never dull, always exciting,” he said. “The danger is adrenaline boosting.”

In March 2016, an aircraft caught the cable on the deck of the USS Dwight D Eisenhower, but the cable snapped. Captured on video, the aircraft appears to fly off the front of the carrier, and after a few seconds, video shows the aircraft recovering and flying up into the sky.

“You never get bored,” said Bordagaray. “Every time it lands, it’s so different.”

Bordagaray and his fellow Wisconsin-native, Michols, may be working in different parts of the ship, but their goal is the same: to execute the ship’s mission and do it together.

USS Abraham Lincoln