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Profiles in Courage: What it’s like to prepare Navy planes for battle for decades

(Carlos Lozano Photo)
LISTEN: Profiles in Courage: What it's like to prepare Navy planes for battle for decades

PHOENIX — When Carlos Lozano was growing up as a teenager in New York City, he was getting into a lot of trouble.

Born in Colombia, Lozano moved to the United States with his family when he was 10 years old. He was one of six children raised by a single mother.

Lozano knew he had no focus, so he wanted discipline and structure. When he turned 17, he wanted to enlist in the Navy. All he needed was his mom’s approval.

“I knew getting my mother’s permission was not going to be a problem,” Lozano said. “She was very happy when I told her that I wanted to enlist.”

Lozano went off to boot camp and said he finally had the structure he craved when he was growing up. He always loved airplanes and the Navy gave him the chance to work on them.

“I went from a 16-year-old — no high school diploma, with no focus, no future — to literally a year later, I’m working on fighter aircraft,” he said.

He became an airplane mechanic and worked aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid air carrier. He worked on airplanes that fought during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

“Some of them were landing on the Intrepid, getting refueled,” Lozano said. “Most of us who had some experience around airplanes were helping those pilots prepare their airplanes to take off and go on to Israel.”

He said life aboard ship was very busy and sleep could be limited at times. Yet Lozano is grateful for his time aboard the U.S.S Intrepid. A port visit in the early 1970s to Barcelona changed his life.

“[When] I would go with the supply officer to buy equipment, I would act as an interpreter,” Lozano said. “In one of my tours as an interpreter, I got to meet my wife.”

Lozano and his wife, Marisa, have been married for 42 years. They have three kids and eight grandchildren. During his naval career, Lozano spent months away from his three children and it was tough. He was lucky to have his wife holding down the fort at home.

“When I was gone, she became mom and dad,” Lozano said. “And trust me, she was like the general in the house.”

Eventually, Lozano was able to earn a college degree from the University of Texas. He became a commissioned Naval officer, spending time aboard the U.S.S. Midway. One of his deployments lasted nine months.

“The longest deployment of my entire career was on the Midway, during the Iranian Hostage Crisis,” Lozano said.

He said they were on standby near Iran just in case they were needed.

Lozano prepared fighter planes for combat later in the 1980s, when he spent time aboard the U.S.S Coral Sea. Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, claimed rights to the entire Gulf of Sidra, even though international law said Libya was only entitled to waters up to 12 miles from the coast.

Lozano was a maintenance manager aboard the Coral Sea as it sailed towards the Gulf of Sidra.

“We’re going to exercise our freedom of navigation and we’re going to enter that area that Qaddafi says do not,” Lozano said of his ship’s mission.

It was the so-called “line of death.” Lozano readied the Coral Sea’s planes for battle against Libya once the U.S. crossed that line.

“We went in there, he launched airplanes, we launched ours. Ours came back and theirs did not,” Lozano said.

Lozano had been in the Navy for over 15 years, but that was the first time he was exposed to combat.

His next job took him far from the front lines: He worked in the Pentagon in an administrative role.

The highlight of Lozano’s career was still to come. The Navy made him an air wing maintenance officer, one of only 10 in the Navy. He was sent to oversee aircraft maintenance aboard the U.S.S America during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

“This was the real thing,” Lozano said. “This is precisely what we had been training for, at least for me, the last 15-20 years.”

He would work 20 hour days to repair and ready planes for air strikes over Iraq, as U.S. forces liberated Kuwait. There were harrowing moments during that war, as Lozano wondered if his buddies would be coming back from their missions.

“I would be sitting by flight deck control or someplace where I could hear the radio, to see if they’re all checking in,” Lozano said.

His air wing did not suffer a single combat loss.

After the Gulf War, Lozano came back stateside. He eventually achieved the rank of captain, and retired in 2004.

Along the way, Lozano earned the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Navy Achievement Medal and the Kuwait Liberation Medal.

Lozano currently lives in Chandler and volunteers with the Chandler Police Department and other organizations. He is also the senior vice commander of the Sun Lakes VFW. Still, Lozano misses life at sea.

“I have dreams that I’m aboard ship, and I’m telling myself while I’m dreaming ‘well you can’t be here, you’re retired.’ “I miss it. I miss it completely. It’s the greatest job I ever had.”

KTAR will honor each grand marshal of the upcoming Veterans Day parade during our Profiles in Courage series.

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