By Lt. J.G. Jennifer Cunningham, Navy Office of Community Outreach

A Brandon native is serving in the U.S. Navy as part of a hand-picked crew charged with bringing the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier into service.

Airman Rachel Bruner, who enlisted a year ago, is a launching and recovery equipment aviation boatswain’s mate aboard Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), the first ship in its class and the successor to the Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers that have been in operation for the last half century.

Bruner, the first in her immediate family to join the military, and the rest of the 1,000 sailor crew are slowly bringing the ship to life, a crew that will eventually grow to more than 4,500 when the ship is at sea. When complete, the aircraft carrier, powered by two nuclear reactors, will measure more than three football fields long at 1,092 ft. in length and will weigh more than 100,000 tons. It will be capable of sailing at nearly 35 mph and will carry more than 75 Navy aircrafts.

“Airman Bruner plays a vital role in preparing our Nation’s newest and most technologically advanced warship for sea,” said Ford’s Commanding Officer, Capt. John F. Meier. “We have the opportunity to build this command with the ideals of our namesake and we are creating the command climate and a culture of excellence that we have always wanted. This crew is setting that standard, a standard that will last for the 50-plus year life of the ship.”

As one of the sailors who will commission the ship, Bruner has the opportunity to see firsthand the innovations being incorporated into the design of the ship, from a redesigned flight deck to allow for more efficient aircraft operations to equipment that requires less maintenance.

Bruner said it is an exciting time to be in the Navy, helping to build a crew and a ship from scratch, something she never expected to be doing just a couple years ago. She also said she is proud of the work she is doing to help commission and man the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier. As a 22-year-old with numerous responsibilities, Bruner said she is learning about herself as a leader, sailor and a person.

“I’ve become more independent and self-reliant,” said Bruner. “I’ve learned leadership skills from my command. The command is a giant family, helping one another.”

Bruner adds she is ready to accept the sacrifices the Navy and her country are asking her to make. This humbling reward is being a part of something much bigger than she ever expected.

The ship is scheduled to commission in Spring 2016.

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