Life at Sea: Meet Lt. Cmdr. T.J. Browning

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We're getting a rare look at what some of our brave men and women are doing to keep America safe.

Lt. Commander T.J. Browning is a long way from his hometown in northeastern Pennsylvania, a really long way.

Home is a plane and the nuclear-powered ship The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. Lt. Cmdr. Browning is just one of 5,000 on board.

This ship, also known as "The Mighty Ike," is the second-oldest carrier in the Navy's fleet of 11. It's truly a city at sea, complete with its own hospital and dental clinic.

Newswatch 16 had the rare opportunity to cruise with the crew on this aircraft carrier in the Atlantic meeting with Lt. Cmdr. Browning, the Peckville native-turned pilot.

"It is a sacrifice coming out here and doing this job," he said. "Sometimes, it's a higher calling."

The former Valley View High School football player and graduate belongs to one of the eight squadrons attached to the air wing on board "The Mighty Ike."

T.J. spends most of his days inside a radar plane with a crew of five. It's called the E-2C Hawkeye. Essentially, it's an eye in the sky, sending a picture of what's going on around the ship back to the commanders on board.

"We can provide real-time data so the men in charge down here can make informed decisions about the battle space going on," Lt. Cmdr. Browning explained.

The mission out here for T.J. and everyone is simple: maintain readiness. This means that if needed for war or a humanitarian effort, "The Mighty Ike" and its crew are ready.

The days are sometimes 18 hours long. T.J. credits his work ethic to his upbringing in our area.

"Those intangible lessons learned from life about leadership, about family values, core families, I saw mirrored in the military," says Lt. Cmdr. Browning. "It was just an easy fit for me to jump into that based off of my experiences back home. You can take the boy out of Scranton, but you can't take Scranton out of the boy."

He said a lot of his Lackawanna County lingo has been weeded out over 14 years.

"However, when it's pizza night on the ship, I still complain about it not being real pizza. It's round not square, and it's not from Old Forge."

As for where T.J. grew up, it's a house along Academy Street in Peckville. His parents Tom and Maria say flight was always in their son's blood.

"From the day he looked up into the sky and saw an airplane," recalled his father Tom Browning.

When T.J.'s mom Maria thinks of her son's military service, it takes her back to a quote on the two things parents can hope to give their children.

"One bequest is roots and the other is wings. He pretty much took it literally and is flying off to do what he believes in," she said.

Every time T.J. takes to the skies, he wears a piece of safety gear that reminds him of northeastern Pennsylvania. It's equipment he received along with his bomber's jacket when he graduated from flight school years ago.

"You also get your helmet," says Lt. Cmdr. Browning. "There's a box that says Gentex. That was a pretty tight moment. The gear I was going to be wearing was coming from home.''

When he's not at sea, the 36-year-old pilot spends as much time as he can with his wife Cara and their two little girls. They're now living in Virginia close to the naval base.

T.J. hopes to make it back to Lackawanna County for St. Ubaldo Day over Memorial Day weekend. He says every time he returns to northeastern Pennsylvania, it reminds him of why he's been successful.

He adds, "We produce excellent, excellent people coming out of the northeast, hard workers, men and women of value and keep pressing."

A work ethic built in our area, filling T.J. with pride as a pilot who's proud to serve our country.