Lieutenant Zach Fini, call sign “DirJ”, is an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO)
DirJ (short for “Dirty Jersey”) produces “cruise videos”. With beautiful, eye-catching in-flight footage and ‘life on the boat’ scenes, the videos are short chronicles – alternately dramatic and humorous – of what it’s like to be in a door-based Navy squadron. -planes in deployment. They place the viewer in the cockpit with uninterrupted, thrilling action to popular music.
It’s a Navy tradition that has been around for decades, but has gained popularity with the general public with the advent of individual squadrons and airplane-like communities posting their cruising videos to YouTube. For example, DirJ’s “Growler Ball 2020” video, a quick look at Navy Growler squadron deployments last year, has been viewed over 836,000 views in the past 12 months. Cruise videos from years past have up to eight million views.
They derive from the “cruise books” compiled to commemorate the deployments of the crews of Navy ships from the end of the 19th century. When 8mm handheld cameras became available to the public in the post-war era, aviators and sailors were able to capture their experiences on film and “cruise video” was born. The genre quickly gained momentum in the 1980s with the spread of VHS and other video cameras.
DirJ, known to the Growler world from afar, told us how today’s naval aviators make a cruise video.
How do you become the video guy?
“When I was in the VAQ-130, my operational fleet squadron, they found out that I had gone to school for media production,” says DirJ. “They just kind of threw me in!”
The young lieutenant admits that he also “kind of volunteered”. Demonstrating the positive power of modern cruise video, DirJ explains that he grew up watching cruise videos, including a pair of now well-known videos (“Sun King Hey Ya” and “Pump It”) from VAW- 116, an E-2 Hawkeye Squadron, which shows squadron members chanting “Hey Ya” from Outkast and “Pump It” from the Back Eyed Peas.
He already knew he might like to try naval aviation “and then I saw it in this video. It’s a slice of life and you see they’re real fun people and you’re like, “This is what I want to do. ”
DirJ says the cruise videos aren’t just a highlight reel for squadron members. “They’re for everyone out there. For a young child who is wondering what to do with his life, I hope they could be an inspiration.
Jammer as “Filmmaker”
DirJ’s main job is to use the powerful sensors and jamming systems of the EA-18G. But with five cruising videos under his belt since 2016 and another “highlight” of his flight as part of the Growler Legacy flight team set to debut in October, the by-trade Jammer has also become something of a kind. of filmmaker.
Collecting and editing footage takes months of work, he says. For Growler Ball videos, the process begins with a massive emailing out to every EA-18G crew at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (where EA-18G squadrons are based) and to the air base’s only forward squadron. from Marine Corps Iwakuni, Japan. .
The email is generally humorous in order to gain the cooperation of fellow Growler pilots, but DirJ says it’s not difficult to get crews to ride GoPro’s and film from their cockpits.
“What aviator doesn’t want to show off what he’s doing? They’re like, ‘Yeah, cool. I can submit images of myself for the trailer for everyone to see! ”
Often times he receives feedback immediately with hours of footage delivered to his “giant Google.”
But it can take weeks to comb through the video. Meanwhile, DirJ listens to music on the way to work.
“Every day I listen to music. And I’m a bit of a movie nerd so I’m imagining things in my head. “Oh, that would be a cool scene if I made a movie about what we’re doing. Or that would be a cool song to include. ‘”
By knocking out the music until he has a couple of songs he really wants to use, DirJ tries to imagine what clips might well pair with a particular song and conjures up an opening for the video.
“Maybe a slow build up like this year’s Growler Ball video where I had people dealing with the jets and engines starting up. I’m trying to tell a story. They start to take off, fly away and the music resumes. Then maybe it will end with someone trapping on board the aircraft carrier.
Bellingham, Washington-based electronic music group “OdeszaIs one of the Naval Aviator’s favorites and because the group is local to NAS Whidbey Island “just a 45 minute drive”, he tries to include a song of them in every cruise video.
As any good YouTuber knows, keeping the action in constant motion helps to hold the viewer’s attention. He looks for clips where jets are maneuvering or doing something dynamic.
“If I have two jets merging, air combat, that’s a really cool shot. And clips that show the different skills we have like tanking or airborne trapping. There are HARM (high speed anti-radiation missile) firing sequences. The cool part is the missiles coming off the rails. I include two or three shots per video.
The practice of playfully mocking squadron mates is an age-old tradition in naval aviation, and the mischievous exploits of crews are frequently used in cruise videos.
One of DirJ’s favorite blooper clips featured VAQ-130 EWO friend and colleague, “Maxi”. Sitting at a desk in the squadron preparation room, Maxi does not realize that another squadron member is filming him. He smells something, sniffs his armpit, then sniffs it again and looks around to make sure no one sees it. Then he notices that he is in front of the camera.
“It was obviously humiliating for him at the time,” says DirJ, laughing. “But it was one of the funniest little moments, which didn’t offend anyone. He immediately realized it was embarrassing and started to laugh.
Times like this are examples of people being on their own, DirJ notes, adding that amid the stress of doing dangerous work for months on end, the moments of lightness help “humanize us.”
“If there’s one thing any of us are better at than all tactics and theft, it’s making fun of ourselves and others. If you don’t have a sense of humor about all of this, you’re in the wrong line of work.
The first one
Like any filmmaker, DirJ admits to being nervous about opening night. “Anytime there’s a new one I’m terrified before he pushes the game.”
Each cruise video goes through a number of reviews before being released, he says, both to protect operational safety, by ensuring that cameras haven’t captured classified screens in the cockpit. , and to make sure they are entertaining.
“I start by asking my A Squadron peers, does this look good?” And B, do you see something that shouldn’t be there, ”says DirJ. “Then I walk past my skipper and he walks past the commodore before anyone else sees him.”
DirJ’s cruise videos were well received by the public and his squadron mates, boosting the morale of crews and other squadron personnel. “If you are in charge of the maintenance on one of the jets, you can see it flying and know that you are the reason it is flying. I get positive feedback from these guys all the time.
“People are applauding throughout the video, especially if it’s playing on the Growler Ball. [an annual gathering of the EA-18G community]. It’s a pretty rewarding feeling to see them react positively like that.