Top shooter keeps carrier safe | NevadaAppeal.com

Top shooter keeps carrier safe

by Kurt Hildebrand

Angelica Cortez-Rangel holds her medals won during a stint on Carson High School's rifle team. Now she puts her marksmanship to work protecting the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Photo by Kurt Hildebrand

Carson High School’s top shooter is putting her talents to work protecting one of America’s largest warships.

Now a fire controlman aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Angelica Cortez-Rangel, 21, still holds the school shooting record she earned in 1998.

The third-class petty officer is home after spending a record 159 days at sea aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Cortez-Rangel started shooting when she was 9 years old, when her father Pedro Cortez taught her to shoot a .22 caliber rifle.

When she was 13, she learned to fire a 9 mm pistol. She was 8 years old in 1988 when her family moved to Carson City.

“I heard the high school had a rifle team,” she said. “I was already in ROTC, so I decided to try it out.”

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While in high school, she became captain of the rifle team and in her senior year she shot 275 out of 300, a school record that still stands.

After graduating from high school, Cortez-Rangel attended Western Nevada Community College for a year before deciding to join the service.

“I spent a year at WNCC, but I got a little bored,” she said. “I was thinking of joining the Navy anyway, so I signed up.”

That was two years ago.

She got to pick her job and the Navy gave her an $11,000 bonus to sign up.

“I was already interested in guns and you get to learn about electronics, motors and electricity,” she said. “It’s a pretty broad field.”

A fire controlman maintains, tests and operates the equipment that controls this ship’s weapons.

In the case of the Roosevelt, that consists of the Phalanx Close In Weapons System, which sailors dubbed R2D2 because it’s shaped like the little robot from “Star Wars,” and the Sea Sparrow missiles.

Both weapons are used to defend the carrier from incoming missiles and aircraft.

Aircraft from the Theodore Roosevelt supported Allied troops in Afghanistan during the war on terrorism.

“Flight operations were going on 18 hours a day,” she said. About a quarter of the Roosevelt’s complement is female, and Cortez-Rangel said her job has been open to women only in the last five years.

Her job called on her to work 12 hours at a time, watching for incoming threats.

“It got monotonous,” she said. “There were no days off and it was a set schedule. Basically, you would stand watch, eat and sleep.”

Things weren’t so monotonous when something went wrong.

“When something broke, we were under a lot of pressure to fix it fast,” she said. “The captain and other officers would call to ask if it was back up yet.”

Things weren’t all work and sleep, crew members occasionally got a chance to enjoy the ocean spray.

Cortez-Rangel leaped off an aircraft elevator into the Indian Ocean, 32 feet below.

“I was holding someone else’s hand and they weren’t ready to go,” she said. “I got a huge bruise on my leg when I hit the water. I got to see jellyfish while I splashed around.”

There was no sighting of land during the cruise, but the crew did hold a Super Bowl party where they got to watch the game on a 20-foot screen.

The aircraft elevators were also where Cortez-Rangel got a chance to shoot again, this time to qualify to carry a 9mm Beretta. She and others fired at targets lined up on the seaward side of the elevator.

“I scored expert, but we don’t get a ribbon for it,” she said.

The Theodore Roosevelt arrived in the United States on March 27 after what Cortez-Rangel called “The Ironman Cruise.” She was part of the second group to get leave after the ship’s arrival.

When she returns in a few weeks, she will be assigned temporarily to the ship’s security force.

She has submitted paperwork to take the next step in her naval career and become an officer.

On Friday, she will speak to a class at Eagle Valley Middle School.

“I will tell them about the military and how they can be whatever they want to be,” she said.

Most of her immediate family still lives in Carson City. She is the daughter of Aida Rangel. Her brother Peter is a Carson High School student. Her sister Maria answers the phones at Eagle Valley Middle School.