making of

Away at Sea: Sixteen-Foot Waves. Man Overboard! Combat. Canons. Eye-Rattling F-18s.


This is what 30 degrees of roll in 16-foot seas looks like from the pilot house of a missile destroyer.

Shortly after this picture was taken, the ship's XO commented on the sea state, "It'll be good for sleep tonight, but bad for doing anything else. We're running with the waves, and the ship makes a kinda snake-y motion. It rocks you right to sleep."

Over the last 3 months we've done 30 days of production with the Navy. We've been capturing digital assets that show what sailors' jobs are like in each of the 140 different rates in the Navy.

Our last embark was with the USS Momsen, a guided-missile destroyer. Normally, you hit rough seas off the coast of Oregon, but the seas had a mind of their own on this trip, and it was the coast of central California that gave us the roughest water.


Five minutes after calling "man overboard" they had rescued the dummy.

Boatswain's mates are the backbone of a Naval ship's operations. In the photo almost everyone you see, besides our camera op and the SARs swimmer, are Boatwain's mates.

While on board the USS Momsen we had the opportunity to film what's know as an "Oscar" drill. A dummy is sent off the side of the ship and the crew has 5 minutes to launch the rib, get a swimmer in the water and make the rescue.

To my surprise, there was no running. Everyone moved at a smooth, steady pace. After about 3 minutes, the rib wasn't in the water yet. I was sure that they were going to overshoot their target time, probably double it.  

I was wrong. With 120 seconds remaining — the rib was launched, it zoomed out to Oscar the Dummy, and the SAR swimmer had made the rescue.

As the Navy SEALs say, "slow is smooth...smooth is fast."

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Some sailors have never even seen the ocean before joining.

It's surprising how many sailors in the Navy come out of landlocked towns from the middle of America — like Witchita, Kansas and Sweetwater, Tennessee. Some have never even seen the ocean before joining.

Kaleb Brack is one of those guys from a landlocked town. He's a Damage Controlman (DC) on the USS Momsen that's from Kansas. As a DC his job is to fight fires and repair hull breaches. Basically, during the scariest times that you could ever have on a ship, fire and flooding, he's the guy that's trained to lead his shipmates in saving the ship.  

He's not the only one, in the engine room we interviewed two Gas turbine system technician (GSM) females. They're responsible for maintaining the ships engines. One was from rural Mississippi where there was "nothing but cows." For her the hardest part of joining the Navy was passing swimming. Despite her fear, she overcame, and had nothing but positive things to say about life at sea serving in the Navy.


Combat: "Engineering is the muscle, combat is the brains of the ship."

That's what one Operations Specialist (OS) told me about her job.

We got the rare opportunity to film extensively in Combat on a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Momsen. In the photo is the commanding officer, CDR Elaine Brunelle, readying for a live fire exercise with the 5-inch deck gun.

Unlike what I pictured in my civilian brain, the captain is not in the pilot house standing at the wheel of the ship during a combat situation. She is levels below surrounded by screens with every type of data and specialists that are helping her evaluate each aspect of a rapidly evolving battlefield.

This was one of the coolest moments for me during our 30 days of production with the Navy. To give an idea for the uniqueness of the opportunity, the Gunner's Mates said that they only get to fire the 5-inch about once per quarter.

We learned later that the graveyard shift had spent 8 hours scrubbing the space so that classified information was protected from our cameras.

I'm super grateful for the previous shift's hard work and that the CO made it possible for us to film some of these rare moments.


Mommy works on a warship shooting big guns.

If you like things that go BOOM you'd like being a Gunner's Mate (GM) or Fire Controlman (FC) in the Navy.

In the photo a GM is cleaning up after a live fire exercise with a 50-caliber gun on board a missile destroyer. One of our film crew (red jacket) is asking questions.

I interviewed an FC that enlisted in the Navy when she was 30-years-old, shortly after having her third child. She joined because she wanted to provide for her family, and was not the only mother on board.

The parents I talked to said it wasn't easy, there are months at sea where they are only able to connect with their families through email.

It's a small consolation, but at least a GM or FC's child can say, "Mommy works on a warship shooting big guns."  

GMs and FCs service and operate everything from the smallest weapons on board, 50-calibers, to the largest, the 5-inch canon and missile systems.

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"You shake my bones and your rattle my brain. Your kind of love makes a man insane."

When an F-18 takes off and you're standing on the edge of the runway, the force from the engines actually makes your eyes rattle inside their sockets.

The temperature on the tarmac was 100+ at Lemoore Naval Air Station (where the photo was taken). It's one of the training grounds for the Navy's F-18 and F-35 pilots. For filming, we had driven out to an outlying runway to capture F-18s practicing touch-and-goes.

We were saturated in The Top Gun references. For example, "Iceman" was the actual call sign of the instructor in the shack by the runway grading the pilots on their landings (he says he gets a lot of flack for his call sign). And, while we were filming in the control tower, the production designers for Top Gun II showed up to take reference photos of the tower so they knew how to set dress the new feature.

This photo was shot on iPhone, so it's a pretty wide angle. I'd say we weren't more than 40 feet from the fighter's wheels as they hit the tarmac.

Filming for America's Navy

The last three months of filming for America's Navy have been a wild ride. And for Pathfinder, the 4th of July marks the symbolic conclusion of production for #ForgedByTheSea. 

During production, we went underway with two warships, an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic and a missile destroyer in the Pacific, and filmed at over a half dozen different bases. 

Watch one of the videos:

Did you know that when a sailor goes on deployment with a ship that they could be at sea for up to 9 months, working 7 days a week? Or that America's 13 nuclear-powered carriers only have to refuel once every 25 years? 

At every turn we soaked new experiences that made us proud to be American, proud to be filmmakers, and honored to work with the Navy.

But nothing could beat getting to meet many of the dedicated sailors that serve our country each and every day. 

To celebrate the trip, we put together a photo blog from our first leg of production including filming aboard the aircraft carrier CVN 77 USS Bush in the Atlantic and on base in Norfolk, Virginia.  

See the photo story: