This is a long post, though it is mostly pictures, however, if you read nothing else, please read this...
If you just want to look at pretty pictures, scroll down and also check out 300 images posted in my CVN70 gallery.
For those not familiar with Navy terms, My group landed on the carrier and this is called an arrested landing via the arresting wires used to stop the aircraft on the deck, also called a trap landing. The assisted catapult launch off the carrier is also called a cat shot. Hence the terms in my blog title, arrested and shot by the navy. At no time did I ever get detained by law enforcement, enter the brig, or have any weapons pointed in my direction.
Now for the story... Please take 10-15 minutes to join me in my 24 hour adventure...
I was invited to participate in the U.S. Navy’s Distinguished Visitor Program and embark on the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, while it was deployed in the Pacific conducting Tailored Ship's Training Availability (TSTA). This included conducting carrier take-off and landing training for fleet replacement aviators and facilitating squadron carrier qualifications.
The Navy states the following regarding the Distinguished Visitor (DV) Program:
I am very pleased that you will be joining us for a Distinguished Visitor (DV) embark aboard an aircraft carrier, hosted by Commander, Naval Air Forces (COMNAVAIRFOR). As a DV, you will get a rare first-hand look at life aboard an aircraft carrier and witness the pride and professionalism of our young men and women who serve our country at sea. I am confident it will be a memorable and enjoyable experience for you.
While we would like to invite every American citizen to join us at sea for a day to see their Navy in action, that simply isn’t possible. Instead, we invite people like you who are active leaders in your local, civic, education or business community to embark and share your experience with others. Some of the people we invite to participate in the embark program include legislative representatives, city council members, corporate executives, educators, and other leaders of broad-based organizations who have not previously experienced the excitement of aircraft carrier operations.
As an aside, each member of the DV group paid their own way to and from the carrier. In fact, we were also required to pay $50 in cash to get on board in order to cover food and other expenses. Neither the Navy nor taxpayers subsidized our trip.
My DV Program invitation did not pop up overnight. I believe the process started back in 2010 when a good friend of mine, Robert DeRobertis, was selected to participate in the DV Program and visited the USS Abraham Lincoln (check out Rob's amazing pictures here). Rob later recommended me for nomination. The nomination process can take from a few days to three years starting from the time of nomination to vetting by the Navy and finally selection and embarkation to a ship at sea. Dennis Hall, founder of Avere Group LLC, made my embark possible via his nomination of me. Dennis Hall initially submitted my nomination to the Deputy Public Affairs Officer for the Commander, Naval Air Forces – Pacific, US Pacific Fleet for the Distinguished Visitors Program. It took just over 3 years for my opportunity to materialize, partly due to sequestration budget cuts. As for the nomination process, anyone can contact the various Navy organizations that have embark programs to apply and be considered.
To visit the Vinson, I flew from Boston to San Diego and then made a short drive to my hotel in Coronado Island. I arrived on Monday and my embark to the USS Carl Vinson was not scheduled until Wednesday, so I had some time to adjust to the time zone change, explore the area and enjoy the lovely 75 degree sunny SoCal weather (it was snowing in Boston!). I made a side trip to visit the USS Midway aircraft carrier museum in San Diego on Tuesday, which was well worth visiting and highly recommended to you if you are ever in San Diego, However, I would like to thank Midway Docents, Beth Lyons (retired teacher), Tom Finley (retired Navy Helicopter pilot) and Bob Ryan (retired naval aviator) for their invaluable information and patience with my questions while aboard the Midway. But that is another story...
The morning of the embark, our group of 15 writers, bloggers, and media executives reported to Naval Air Station North Island (NAS) at 0715, an hour earlier than we were originally scheduled in order to get us on the USS Carl Vinson sooner so they could arrange for more time for daytime flight operations. When I first heard about the schedule change, all I could say was, "Sweeeeeeeeeeet! More time on the ship!". Needless to say, no one complained about getting more time on the carrier.
I woke up to the scene shown below just outside my hotel on Coronado Island, indicating good weather for the day ahead. I wanted more shots of the front gate of NAS but was advised (by large men with guns) not to photograph the security gate, so of course I complied. My camera shoots fast, but I'm sure they shoot faster. We were greeted at NAS by Steve Fiebing, Deputy Public Affairs Officer and Distinguished Visitor Embark Coordinator (pictured below). As participants in the Distinguished Visitor (DV) Program, we were guests of the Commander Naval Air Forces Pacific (CNAP).
Steve gave us a brief tour and introduced us to Commander Fitz "Dud" Lee (pictured below), 20 year veteran and naval aviator, who presented a briefing which described the following:
A few key points from the briefing that stood out to me were the Navy Core Capabilities:
Steve then took us outside to show us the features of the C-2 Greyhound Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) aircraft that would fly us from NAS and land on the USS Carl Vinson somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A good portion of this discussion was to reassure us of just how safe this aircraft is and to emphasize the skill and experience of our pilots who perform these flights many, many times. To be honest, I was more wary of my JetBlue flight than the Navy flight.
We met our pilots and crew of the VRC-30 Providers who would be flying us out to the Vinson on the C-2 Greyhound (COD) and they soon had us geared up with our cranials (helmet, goggles and earcups), foam earplugs, and collars (floatation vest). Most of us looked like dorks in this gear, but my bunkmate Rocky (Below: top right corner) looked really badass :-)
DV MembersDV Members (top row l-r: Steve Bustin, Rocky Barbanica; middle row l-r: Brett Murray, Bill Wohl, Ian Sobiesky, Analisa Farias, Peg Fitzpatrick; bottom row l-r: Don Levy, Diana Weynard, Christian Rahl, Jeremy Epstein; Not Pictured - Mr. Kim Merrill and yours truly; MIA: Susan Katz Keating due to snowstorm in DC grounding her plane :-(
The COD aircraft are used to transport mail, critical supplies and personnel to and from the carrier while it is out to sea. There are enough seats for about 2 dozen passengers but don't expect an in-flight movie or drink service. The plane is pretty bare-bones. There is little or no insulation, the seats are steel with a couple inches of padding and they face backwards! You enter the aircraft through a ramp that opens in the back of the plane under the tail and there are only 2 small windows the size of teacup saucers so you are basically sitting backwards, in the dark, with only the very loud drone of the twin turbo props filtering through your double-ear protection (foam earplugs and earcups) with no way to talk to each other for a mind-numbing 30-40 minutes without any idea where you are going or when you will arrive. It is probably a good thing there are no windows, because I don't think that the sight of the carrier landing deck floating in the middle of the ocean would inspire confidence in any civilians knowing they were about to land on it. I tried not to think about it and instead placed my confidence in the skill and experience of our pilots and crew.
My confidence was not misplaced. Our trap landing was surprisingly smooth and quick. Being seated backwards, you simply sink back into your seat during the abrupt stop when the tailhook catches the arresting wire on the deck and your plane slows from 105 mph to 0 mph in 2 seconds! The COD then taxis off the runway while it's wings fold up to clear the path for the next aircraft. While this is happening, the plane's tail ramp hatch begins to open and your senses are assaulted by a flood of bright white light, the roar of jet engines and the smell of jet fuel and exhaust. Once your eyes adjust, you see men and women in an array of rainbow colored shirts, helmets, goggles and vests working the flight deck as well as huge fighter jets both parked and moving about and you suddenly realize... we are not in Kansas anymore.
Watch the video I shot of the COD ramp opening up immediately after landing...
Coming off the flight deck, you could see the water rushing by the side of the ship and it was pretty clear we were moving fairly fast through the water. We were told that the ship can do 30+ knots. I think we were doing "+" ;-). We were greeted by LCDR Kyle Raines (Below: top left photo), Executive Officer Captain Walt "Sarge" Slaughter (I'm not making this up!) (Below: top right photo), ENS Rob Bell, MC2 Brent Pyfrom (Below: bottom left) and shortly afterwards visited by Captain Kent "Torch" Whalen, Commanding Officer of the USS Carl Vinson (Below: bottom right photo).
I want to give a big shout out to ENS Rob Bell and Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (MC2) Brent Pyfrom along with my sincere thanks. They were given the daunting task of
herding cats escorting our group. They made our entire visit run smoothly, answered all of our questions patiently and accommodated our requests, making for a truly outstanding visit. I only wish I captured some better pictures of them both.
Ens. Rob Bell (soon to be Lieutenant!) is the Navy Public Affairs Support Element (NPASE) West Detachment Officer-In-Charge to Carrier Strike Group One (CSG-1). That is a really long title...to break it down, the Navy assigns a certain number of public affairs officers (PAOs) and enlisted Mass Communication Specialists (MCs) to the aircraft carrier.
When USS Carl Vinson deploys, it deploys as part of a strike group under the command of Carrier Strike Group One (CSG-1). The strike group includes a cruiser, some destroyers, the aircraft carrier...etc.
NPASE supports the strike group by sending out PAOs and MCs to the ships to tell the ENTIRE strike group story...whereas the MCs on board Carl Vinson are here to tell the ship and air wing's story.
Ens. Bell is the PAO whose job it will be to manage the MCs on the various smaller ships who are telling the larger strike group story. He will live aboard Carl Vinson and work for Lt. Cmdr. Kyle Raines, who is overall responsible as the Public Affairs Officer for the Carl Vinson AND for CSG-1. Lt. Cmdr. Raines wears two hats, and he does this well.
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (MC2) Brent Pyfrom is assigned to the Carl Vinson. He oversees the production of stories for the ship's newspaper and is the lead Distinguished Visitor escort.
The CO and XO welcomed us aboard and provided us with some background on the USS Carl Vinson and her namesake.
So how do you get an aircraft carrier named after you? Here's how Carl Vinson did it...
Carl Vinson was a distinguished member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia for more than 50 consecutive years. Beginning in 1914, Vinson served under nine Presidents, from Wilson to Johnson.
During his distinguished career, Vinson was responsible for the expansion of the U.S. military, particularly the Navy--he was referred to as the "Father of the Two Ocean Navy." He also helped to ensure the continued existence of the United States Marine Corps, and kept funding for the Department of Defense intact despite legislative efforts to reduce it. He is credited for advocating military preparedness, and his efforts to expand the Air Force, Marines and the Navy pre-dated the attack on Pearl Harbor and the American entrance into World War II. After the end of the war Vinson continued to work for a strong military.
The CO and XO also imparted some thoughts on what we could expect to see while aboard. I was impressed with the fact we were encouraged to form our own opinions and conclusions regarding everything we would observe during the next 24 hours without any influence or censorship by the Navy. This was emphasized by Captain Whalen who told us he would reserve his own comments for when we were ready to depart. The Captain was soft spoken and his words were eloquent and well considered. His demeanor was unpretentious and he did not appear rushed while entertaining our questions. I was thankful for the generous amount of time he afforded us.
After we caught our breath from the excitement of the trap landing and had our fill of cold water, coffee, and fresh cookies, while listening to the opening comments from the CO and XO, we were ready to begin our tour with ... wait for it ... the FLIGHT DECK!
Here is some eye-candy from the Flight Deck...
Below: Hornet landing as seen from Vulture's Row outside Primary Flight Control, a.k.a. Pri-Fly, above the flight deck.
007_Hornet_Landing_MAH00429F/A-18 Hornet Landing Below: Hornet Catapult Launch video. Final Checkers are observing the exterior of the aircraft for proper flight control movement, engine response, panel security and leaks at the rear of the aircraft prior to giving thumbs-up. The raised panel behind the jet is called a jet blast deflector. It is a safety device that redirects the high energy exhaust from a jet engine to prevent damage and injury. The roar of the jet engines is unbelievably loud - even if you can turn your speakers/headphones up to 11, it does not do this scene justice. Your internal organs literally vibrate from the sound. It is a visceral experience and flight deck crew endure this for hours while working. 008_FA18CatLaunch_MAH00426F/A-18 Hornet Catapult Launch
Below: This action sequence blow was composited together from multiple photos of a Hornet catapult launch observed from Vulture's Row - an observation area outside the Bridge above the flight deck from later in the day. Hornet Launch SequenceF/A-18 Hornet Catapult Launch Sequence Below: Yes - I really was THAT close! This F/A-18 Hornet landed just 30 feet in front of our group standing on the Flight Deck. F/A-18 Hornet LandingF/A-18 Hornet Landing Below: Detail shot of the tailhook catching one of the 4 arresting wires which bring the jet to a full stop in about 300 feet. © 2014 Philip Giordano © 2014 Philip Giordano Below: One of the 4 arresting wires on the flight deck. This one was only about 15 feet in front of me and that wire is 5 cm thick. © 2014 Philip Giordano © 2014 Philip Giordano Above and Below: Notice the folded wings on this F/A-18 Hornet - all aircraft on the carrier have foldable wings to maximize available space and allow them to utilize the hangar deck elevators. © 2014 Philip Giordano © 2014 Philip Giordano Below: F/A-18 Hornet ready for takeoff! © 2014 Philip Giordano Below: Sailors were constantly running on the flight deck to do their jobs in a chaotic ballet that enabled aircraft to land and takeoff at 45 second intervals mainly communicating only with hand signals while carrying heavy gear. © 2014 Philip Giordano The flight deck is unbelievably loud, even with double-hearing protection (foam earplugs and earcups). The smell of jet fuel and exhaust washes over you, stings your eyes and permeates your clothes. It is one of the most dangerous places to work in the world.
Everyone is told to "keep their head on a swivel". Our group was told not to stray outside of a very specific area and we were advised not to struggle if someone grabbed the back of your vest to pull you out of harm's way because they were probably saving your life. I did my best to comply while grabbing every photo op before me. It was a target rich environment and I was in my glory. When I did receive a tug on my shoulder, I stopped what I was doing and moved where I was instructed. I later thanked MC2 Pyfrom for his assistance because I truly did not see how close I was to one of the jets that was moving along the deck when he moved me out of the way.
Everyone on the flight deck has a job and their job function is indicated by the colors they wear. This Navy Briefing slide provides a key.
During our visit, there were roughly 5000 people aboard the Vinson, 2800 crew and 2000 assigned to the air wing. They were not putting on a show for our group. They were performing their normal duties while undergoing critical training to make them ready for their next deployment.
I was impressed with the level of professionalism, precision, dedication and commitment that I observed from every sailor regardless of rank or rating. I've never been more proud or more grateful for the service and sacrifice of every man and woman in our Navy than I was after seeing them perform their duty first hand.
Like a land-based air traffic control center, the CATCC is filled with more screens than your local sports bar, as well as radio and radar equipment which the controllers use to keep track of aircraft in the area (in this case, mainly the aircraft outside the Air Boss's supervision).
I got my first indication of approximately where we were by looking at these screens. I noticed that the divert air field at NAS North Island was 119 miles away and Miramar was 130 miles away. They use the divert air fields in case an aircraft cannot land on the Vinson for any reason.
I learned that this is NOT how the Navy typically eats every night. This was a special dinner for our DV group. Our meal consisted of the same ingredients that were used for the crew's meals, but our Culinary Specialists were only cooking for 20 people and had some latitude to get creative with the menu. I was quite thankful because the meal, the service and the company were all excellent.
After dinner, we were escorted to the Flag Bridge (or was this Pri-Fly? Not certain but it was wicked cool!). At night, the hallway illumination becomes a bit surreal. Red lights fill the interior of the ship in order to preserve the crew's night vision and mitigate light spill outside the ship to reduce its visibility.
I was surprised how dark the flight deck appeared at night. My camera struggled to attain focus on anything on the deck and I can only imagine how difficult it is to perform your job during flight operations at night on the deck let alone how hard it must be for the pilots to land a plane on the pitching and rolling deck in that darkness. I have no doubt that there are no better pilots anywhere in the world than the pilots in our U.S. Navy.
Flight operations typically begin in the morning around 10-12 and go until midnight. As Distinguished Visitors, we stayed in officers quarters and our rooms were located on the gallery deck 03 (immediately below the flight deck). Yes, they were landing planes on the deck right above my cabin while I was trying to sleep. The flight training they were conducting was important to get them mission-ready so needless to say, I didn't mind. I actually got about 6 hours sleep after hitting the rack around 10-10:30pm because I was so exhausted!
We gathered for breakfast in the Chief Petty Officer's (CPO) Mess at 7 AM. Once again I was pleasantly surprised. The food was better than I expected (omelets made to order, pancakes, OJ). At meal times, we were seated with members of the crew so we could find out about life in the Navy directly from the sailors. I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Aldrin Ledwidge AECS Senior Chief Aviation Electrician's Mate (Below: bottom center photo) who had been serving in the Navy for 16 years. He was born in Jamaica and moved to Long Island, NY with his family when he was 12 years old. I asked him why he joined the Navy and he told me he joined to get away from home, a common response that I had heard from other sailors too. He described the Navy as very competitive. He was constantly learning in order to advance, while also training the next sailor in line for his role. Aldrin was easy to talk to and very personable. He was enthusiastic and proud to be in the Navy and aboard the Vinson. Another common theme I saw while talking with sailors aboard.
We had the honor of being escorted around the ship after breakfast by the highest ranking enlisted man aboard the USS Carl Vinson, Command Master Chief Jeffrey Pickering (pictured above in the bottom left corner photo and in the photos below). The interior environment of the ship is very industrial. The corridors have exposed pipes, conduits and equipment. The hatches are called knee-knockers as they are all raised off the floor so you have to high-step it to get through them. As our group moved throughout the ship, sailors would all get out of our way and press flat against the walls in order to let us pass regardless of where they were going or what they were doing. Our group usually moved quickly because there was so much to see and they Navy had us on a tight schedule. I found every sailor to be courteous, polite and friendly. I tried to meet every sailor's eye and thank them or say hello to them. Every sailor greeted me with a "hello sir" or "welcome aboard". I can only recall a couple sailors who remained silent and no one was rude or impatient to get by our group, though a few pilots in fight gear did continue to move in the hallway instead of standing flat up against the bulkhead, but I couldn't fault them. I felt like I was in the way or delaying crewmen from their tasks so I tried to move as quickly as I could. I doubt any of the sailors realized that I wasn't just thanking them for letting me pass, but rather I was thanking them for all that they do in service to our country. Mere words fall short of the gratitude I have for each and every one of them.
We went up and down about 10 flights of stairs (ladders is a better description) twice each day as we toured the ship. LCDR Raines gave me a great piece of advice the first day and that was to lean in to the ladder as I went up and watch my hands on the railings. I was able to go up the ladders without using my hands and this was really helpful, especially while trying to keep my camera gear from banging against everything.
We toured some of the crew's berths. The bunks were stacked 3 high. A small shelf under each bunk provided storage for all the worldly belongings for each sailor - about 5 cubic feet of space. There were blue curtains on the bunks to provide some 'privacy'. I asked one of the Chiefs during breakfast what he did for privacy and he said that if he wasn't in his bunk, he would sometimes walk the hangar deck or go up to the flight deck if there were no flight operations just to get some time to himself. In other words, there just isn't much privacy on the ship and with 5000 people aboard, you better figure out how to get along with everyone else.
Jay Leno's garage cannot compare to the ship's hangar deck. Definitely the coolest 'garage' I've ever seen.
The hangar deck is HUGE! There are huge doors that can close off sections of the hangar deck in cases of emergency for damage control and to stop the spread of fire. We saw all the doors open and the vast expanse of the deck was impressive.
025_20140123_4880_DV_Embark_CVN70The Hangar Deck Below: Huge doors behind the crewmen in yellow can be closed to prevent the spread of fire. Another set of doors is back to the far left - look for the dark line crossing the frame on the ceiling. 026_20140123_4633_DV_Embark_CVN70Me On The Hangar Deck Below: Crewmen moving a plane onto one of the elevators in order to bring it up to the flight deck. 027_20140123_4684_DV_Embark_CVN70Hangar Deck Elevator This elevator can hold two planes each weighing approximately 70,000 pounds.
I watched this elevator ascend to the flight deck in just a few seconds! 028_20140123_4718_DV_Embark_CVN70Hangar Deck Elevator Below: Every pilot gets a call sign. Typically the name comes from some embarrassing event in your past, or some other derogatory connotation or it simply rhymes with your name in a funny way. In any event, you don't get to choose your call sign and it isn't always sexy like the pilot names in the Hollywood films. 029_20140123_4868_DV_Embark_CVN70Helluva Call Sign Below: The Navy has its own police. These were the only crewman that I saw with sidearms. They were moving fast and I got out of their way. 030_20140123_4873_DV_Embark_CVN70Navy Po Po!
The Vinson displaces almost 100,000 tons. Big ships require big anchors (and big chains). The anchors weigh 30 tons. Each link weighed in excess of 350 pounds. I did not try to move any links.
The Vinson is over 30 years old with an expected service life of 50 years. Constant maintenance keeps the ship clean and running smoothly. Having your favorite tunes on hand while you work makes the task a little easier to handle too (notice the earbuds below)
Vinson Media Center leader, Senior Chief Monica Hopper (pictured below) took us to her favorite gym on the ship. This gym had one helluva view and looked out directly over the water from the hangar deck.
I want to give a big shout out to Senior Chief Monica Hopper for all of her help both during the embark and after. She has patiently answered my questions via email to help me verify facts and I want to extend my sincere thanks to her for her time and efforts. Monica, you rock!
We visited the Ready Room of one of the Helicopter squadrons, The Battlecats. Helo pilots LT Tyler "Beastmode" Sargent and CDR Peter "Repete" Riebe provided us with a briefing on the mission and capabilities of the Helos.
Flight Deck Control is where Aircraft Handling Officer LCDR Kyle Caldwell, A.K.A. "The Handler" works with his staff to keep track of the location and status of every aircraft on the flight deck and in the hangar deck. Only 9 other people in the world have a similar job. Surprisingly, there were no complicated electronic systems employed for these tasks. Instead, they use a "Oija Board" and something they call "Pinology".
The handler's primary tracking tool is the "Ouija Board," a two-level transparent plastic table with etched outlines of the flight deck and hangar deck. Each aircraft is represented by a scale aircraft cut-out on the table. When a real plane changes location, the handler moves the model plane accordingly. A tackle box full of pushpins, nuts, bolts, washers and wingnuts are placed on the aircraft cut-outs and serve as markers indicating various states of the aircraft (i.e., needs repair, needs fuel, ready to fly, etc), hence the term "Pinology".
034_20140123_4785_DV_Embark_CVN70Beware of Jet Blast 034a_20140123_4802_DV_Embark_CVN70_HDRFlight Deck 034b_20140123_4790_DV_Embark_CVN70_HDRFlight Deck HDR 035_20140123_4829_DV_Embark_CVN70_HDR-2Flight Deck HDR
Throughout the entire time I was a guest aboard the Vinson, I was told, "This is your Navy. This is YOUR Navy". So when we finally arrived on The Bridge, I decided to ask if MY Navy wouldn't mind taking out a few people that have been aggravating me greatly. I requested a small air strike to take them out for me. After all, this is MY Navy, so why shouldn't I put them to work directly?
Below: Captain Jack Olive, Navigator of the Vinson attempted to explain why my request just "wouldn't fly". I failed to see his point and decided to take my request up to the next level and talk with the CO, Captain Whalen.
Below: Captain Whalen listened intently to my request and then patiently explained why he thought this was not such a good idea to me.
There was only one thing to do after my conversation with the CO - go over his head and take my request directly to the Admiral. Rear Admiral David F. Steindl, is the Commander of Carrier Strike Group One (CSG-1) of which the Vinson is the flagship. So I called a conference with the Admiral and invited the whole DV Group to discuss the matter...
The Admiral ushered us in to his command center and introduced us to his staff. Commander Gateau (pictured below) gave us an overview of the operation and kindly assisted me with acquiring coordinates for the air strike I was planning.
At this point, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I saw an opportunity and took advantage of the empty Big Chair on the Bridge and put my plans into effect. Ready the strike fighters!
I also have to say that I really liked the view from that office window - what do you think?
(cue ominous music) My plan was finally in motion and the Vinson crew was executing my orders like a well oiled machine. That is... until the admiral got wind of what I was doing...
Just before I could launch the fighters, Rear Admiral David F. Steindl put the brakes on the whole operation. However, as a consolation, I did get to pose with the Admiral for this sweet photo op!
If you've actually read this far...kudos to you and you are my new best friend!
Now I'll let you in on a little secret...that last bit about my little plan for an air strike was in jest.
However, the photos don't lie and I really did get to meet the fine officers in those pictures and I did get to sit in the Big Chair and enjoy the view onto the flight deck.
All good things must eventually come to an end and so it was with my trip of a lifetime aboard the Vinson. Our C-2 Greyhound soon arrived back on the deck ready to take us back to NAS in Coronado.
Just before we left the Bridge, I was very fortunate to witness a live fire exercise from several F/A-18 Hornets which had launched earlier. The Hornets were conducting target practice by strafing the ship's wake with their 20 mm cannons. I completely missed the first strafing run as I never saw or heard the aircraft. However, I was ready for the second run and caught this shot - dead on target! I never saw or heard this Hornet either, but those are real bullets hitting the water!
After some parting words from Captain Whalen and XO Captain Slaughter, we donned our cranials and collars and boarded the C-2 on the flight deck for the final highlight of our adventure...a catapult assisted launch off the deck of the Vinson!
045_20140122_0412_DV_Embark_CVN70Selfie On The Ride Home Aboard The C-2 Greyhound (COD) 046_20140122_0414_DV_Embark_CVN70The Ride Home Aboard The C-2 Greyhound (COD) 047_20140122_0416_DV_Embark_CVN70Selfie On The Ride Home Aboard The C-2 Greyhound (COD)
I told you I looked like a dork in that gear ;-)
Once again, we boarded the C-2 facing backwards in our seats. However, this time the backwards facing seats would not work in our favor. 3 to 4 times my full body weight would be on the four-point harness straps when the catapult launched us off the deck instead of sinking back into the padding of my seat. We were about to accelerate from 0 to 128 mph in about 3 seconds as we are flung off the deck and [hopefully] into flight. The worst part is that you have no idea exactly when the catapult will launch the plane. I tightened my straps almost to the point where I couldn't breath and leaned forward into the straps so that I wouldn't be slammed into the little bit of slack I had left. I bent my head down and crossed my arms over my chest. (I would have kissed my ass goodbye, but I couldn't reach). The crewmen inside with us indicated we were ready to go by raising their hands in the air and saying, "Here we go. Here we go. Here we go." You still have to wait a few seconds for the actual launch and this anticipation is the worst part, worse than the cat shot itself. The engines are at full power. When the catapult finally engages, you feel 3-4Gs press you into the straps for about 3 seconds. Even when you are ready for it, you still grunt against the force on the straps with 3 to 4 times your own body weight pressing you down.
And then it is over.
You feel light as the plane dips a bit and takes flight. You can't help but cheer after the cat shot and that's just what we all did - just like the coolest roller coaster ride you could ever imagine, except you share that ride with only about 0.01% of all the people in the world and that puts you in a very small, select group called the "Tailhookers".
The plane flies straight and low for about 5 miles because there are other aircraft above you in flight in the vicinity of the carrier. As soon as the C-2 clears the 5 mile mark, it banked and ascended quickly. To be honest, this kicked my ass more than the cat shot because my stomach dropped when we quickly ascended without any notice - no windows, no in-cabin announcement, just the drone of the engines in your ears while you sit backwards... in the dark. I got over it quickly, but have to laugh at the irony because I thought the cat shot would be harder to deal with, but in reality, it wasn't bad at all. The IDEA of it is both cool and scary, but it was actually pretty fun!
30 minutes later, we arrived at NAS on Coronado Island safe and sound with a deeper appreciation for all those who serve and one helluva story to tell.
It takes every member of the crew and air wing to carry out the mission and support operations aboard ship. The planes and technology are impressive, but ships don't sail and planes don't fly without the men and women to repair, maintain, equip, fuel, and operate them. It takes every one of them pulling together in order to succeed.
I saw men and women running with heavy gear and equipment the entire time I was on the fight deck or observing from above on Vulture's Row or from one of the Bridges. They do this for hours during flight operations. Flight operations usually begin between 10am-noon and may continue until midnight during training. Operations in a combat theater can go longer. Sailors do this every day while ensuring everyone's safety in a complex and chaotic ballet where hand signals are the main form of communication due to the unbelievably loud environment. Jet fuel and exhaust washes over you and stings your eyes. The roar of the jet engines is unbelievably loud even with double-hearing protection. Flight operations go on day and night. Pilots have told me that flying during the day is fun and challenging. At night it is downright terrifying. There is no frame of reference and when landing on the carrier, the edge of the deck is not lit so you only have some runway lights and the meatball to guide you. You rely on a plane captain (brown shirt) who is 20 years old to help you taxi and guide you to park the jet and not go off the edge of the deck into the ocean in pitch blackness. Every crewman on board the ship is doing his or her job to sustain flight operations and the operations of the ship.
There can be no success without teamwork.
There is no doubt in my mind about the truth of this statement above. I have seen it first hand. They all volunteer to put themselves in harm's way so that every one of us may enjoy our freedoms. Freedoms many of us take for granted each day.
I sleep very well at night knowing that the men and women of our armed forces have the watch. I've seen first hand the sacrifice being made by those serving in our Navy (and their families). The training they undergo in order to be ready for deployments for months at a time, involve long hours under harsh and dangerous conditions. An air craft carrier flight deck is one of the most dangerous places to work. There are numerous ways to be injured or die during routine training while never even seeing combat. There are no weekends off. There is very little privacy and nowhere to go on the ship to 'get away' even when off duty. This is 24/7. Every one of them is a volunteer.
Read that again...
EVERY MAN AND WOMAN WHO SERVES OUR COUNTRY AT SEA IS A VOLUNTEER
If you are part of the extended CVN70 Vinson family, please leave a comment, or drop me a note via the contact page to let me know and accept my gratitude for your service or your support.
USS Carl Vinson Facebook post:
Over the last underway, Carl Vinson hosted 189 distinguished visitors. We recently had the opportunity to view some of the photos one of our visitors took and thought you would enjoy them as well. This is life aboard a warship from a civilian's perspective: http://www.philgphoto.com/cvn70
My embarking to and from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN70) aircraft carrier was made possible via my nomination by Dennis Hall, founder of Avere Group LLC (www.averegroup.wordpress.com), through collaborative referral to him by Guy Kawasaki (www.GuyKawasaki.com) and through recommendation for nomination by my good friend, Robert DeRobertis (www.robde.com). Dennis Hall initially submitted my nomination to the Public Affairs Officer of the US Navy’s Third Fleet. The Public Affairs Officer then referred my nomination to the Office of Public Affairs, Commander, US Pacific Fleet. The US Pacific Fleet selected me for the Distinguished Visitors Program, inviting me to embark.
Thanks to Andy Sernovitz. Robert DeRobertis came to his embark through Andy and Dennis working collaboratively. They put together the embark to the USS Lincoln during April 2010, and Andy nominated Robert. Afterward, Dennis followed up with Robert about ensuing embarks and Robert recommended me.
Andy Sernovitz is a 20-year veteran of the interactive marketing business. Andy writes an amazing newsletter and blog called Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That, and is author of the book Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.
I would also like to thank Steve Fiebing, Deputy Public Affairs Officer for the Commander, Naval Air Forces – Pacific, US Pacific Fleet and his staff for his invitation and their coordination of my embark.
I would also like to acknowledge Captain Chuck Henry, USN (retired) who during 1998 while on active duty began mentoring Dennis Hall regarding Naval Air Forces opportunities for Distinguished Visitor embarks to aircraft carriers.
My thanks to my very good friend and wingman Robert DeRobertis for recommending me for nomination.
My thanks to Denise Duhamel for the loan of her Nikon D800 camera body. There is an old Italian saying (OK, its a joke) that states, "Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies." I'd like to amend this to add, "Real good friends loan you expensive camera bodies." Denise is a real good friend and talented photographer. Please check out her amazing photography: http://dduhamel.zenfolio.com/
I also want to thank my wife and daughter for their amazing support and encouragement. Pam and Jessie, you are my inspiration.