Tuesday, November 10, 2009


It has been a while since I posted to this blog. I suppose the reason is that not much exciting has been happening. I will try to keep a more timely schedule.

Let me tell you about an opportunity I had last week. Last week, thanks to the kindness of MGEN Tom Wilkerson and the US Naval Institute of Annapolis, Maryland, I had the chance to participate in a Distinguished Visitors excursion to the IKE. While I have been on underway aircraft carriers before, this experience eclipses all of the other cruises.

Last Tuesday, November 3 (coincidentally, it was my birthday), I drove from Annapolis, Maryland, to Norfolk, Virginia. The automobile ride alone was incredible because my GPS routed me through the countryside, not along an interstate route. The trees along the way were nothing short of spectacular. The blazing colors made me thank God for his artistry beyond man’s ability to create. The time also allowed me to do some contemplative thinking and personal evaluating. It was time alone that I treasured.

Arriving in Norfolk, I did not have a lot of time to settle in the hotel room before being picked up for a reception at Missouri House, the on-base home of Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr., Commander, Fleet Forces Command and his wife. Along with eight other participants, we enjoyed hors d’oeurves and our choice of drink served by a wonderful Navy staff. Music provided by the Admiral’s woodwind quartet set the mood for the evening. We all chatted, exchanged sea stories and generally learned about each other. Several of Admiral Harvey’s staff also attended and joined in the pleasantries. After a couple of hours, we all returned to the hotel prepared to get a good night’s rest for the next day’s excursion.

7:15 AM came early. The group was escorted to Norfolk Naval Station where we received an in-depth briefing on the status of the U.S. Navy, the readiness of our forces, and much more provided by Vice Admiral Peter H. Daly, Deputy Commander, Fleet Forces Command and his staff. The briefing opened my eyes to the advances experienced by the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard to become a superior fighting force and defender of homeland security.

After the briefing, the group was lead on a tour of the USS Nicholas (FFG-47), a Perry class frigate. Because of a constraint of time, we only visited the bridge and a couple of other areas of the ship.

Following the tour, we were driven to the embark point where we donned Navy life vests and a cranial and goggles. We then boarded a COD (Carrier On-Board Delivery) aircraft, the C-2A Greyhound and took off toward our objective. Flying approximately 120 miles out across the Atlantic, the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN-69) was waiting for us to come aboard. Lining up we approached the rolling deck, aimed for the three wire and decelerated from 130 MPH to 0 MPH in 2 seconds. It kind of felt like somebody reached down inside me and pulled my stomach out of my mouth. What an experience! I’ll never forget it.

The group was met by the OPS officer, and we were escorted to a beautiful lunch with several crewmen and crew women. Yes, they do have women on board. The rest of the afternoon consisted of touring departments in the ship and observing flight operations. Now when I speak of observing flight operations, I’m not talking about watching it all from the comfort of the captain’s deck or the spaces of the air boss. We were “on the deck,” fifteen feet away from F/A-18 Superhornets trapping aboard and catapulting from the ship. Noisy, interesting, informative, scary and downright dangerous are a few of the words to describe that experience. Yet it was like watching a ballet, with each of the deck crew doing his job with precision and expertise. Just watching the crew move a dozen airplanes around such a small deck without hitting each other is a test of nerve and a testament to the incredible training and abilities of the crew. And to think that the average age of these guys is about 20 years old. Wow! Makes me think our current generation is not all loud music and video games.

After a gourmet dinner in the Captain’s Mess, we retreated to Vulture’s Row to observe night flight operations. Yes, the ship operates 24 hours a day. Night ops continued until about 11:00 PM. After an hour of watching night ops, we were escorted to our staterooms where we “tried” to sleep. We had been advised to insert ear plugs to abate the noise, but I thought that flight operations would end soon after hopping in bed, so I decided not to use the plugs. I briefly watched the World Series on TV and then lay down for a good night’s sleep. NOT! Noise was so deafening, I could not sleep. Finally, I relented, retrieved my ear plugs, inserted them and immediately fell asleep. Lesson learned!

Next morning, after a great breakfast in the Chief’s Mess, we toured more departments on the ship, including the medical area. Did you know that they can actually perform open heart surgery on a carrier and have a four-bed intensive care unit on board? I didn’t, but I learned quickly that the best way to describe a carrier is that it is a city of about 5500-6000 people that is self-contained and self-operating. They do not even carry water on board; they produce their own potable water through a desalination system.

One interesting serendipity that we experienced was the opportunity to observe the ship refuel another ship. Much like UNREP (underway replenishment), a ship steers to within approximately 100 feet of the carrier where it takes on fuel lines through which the fuel is delivered. Although the IKE is a nuclear carrier and does not require liquid fuel to operate, it does carry 3.4 million gallons of fuel on board to operate its air wings and to fuel other ships in the battle group. On this day, the USS Bulkeley (DDG-84) needed fuel and arrived at the IKE to be refueled. 100 feet away, 6-8 foot seas, both ships gliding along at approximately 25 knots makes for an interesting ride. I was amazed that the ships didn’t collide. Again, testimony to the quality of our sailors.

1300 comes quickly, and we once again don our flight gear and board the COD for the return trip. By now the ship has transited southbound and lies about 120 miles south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The C-2A is set in the catapult and readied for launch. From 0 MPH to 170 MPH in 3 seconds is the most intense 3 seconds I have ever experienced. In describing it to a friend, I said it is like someone hitting you in the back with a sledge hammer. I now understand all too well why so many carrier pilots have back problems later in life. I only did it once; after more than 600-900 of these, a pilot’s body must scream for relief.

Back at Norfolk, the group says its “goodbyes” to each other. With everyone going in different directions, they acknowledge the bond that now exists among them as a result of this trip. None of us will ever be the same.

I wish to thank personally Major General Wilkerson, USMC (Ret), Admiral Harvey, Vice Admiral Daly, Captain Dee L. Mewbourne, Commanding Officer of the IKE, Captain Ted Williams, Executive Officer of the IKE, our wonderful and knowledgeable escorts, and the entire crew of the EISENHOWER for allowing us to be a part of two days of their lives. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that I shall never forget.

If you would like to know more about the USS EISENHOWER, copy and paste this link: http://www.eisenhower.navy.mil/