by: John N. Stewart, Vice President, Chief Security Officer, Cisco Systems, Inc.
What seemed like just a short while after we closed our eyes, yet realistically five hours later, a 5:00 a.m. wakeup call sounded and we rushed to join the enlisted men and women for breakfast.
This was a highlight of our visit for me, as I met and had breakfast with PO3 Dodson from Maryland. She informed me that she and her sister are both in the Navy. We shared a laugh about the food onboard and sleeping quarters for the enlisted, and discussed the challenges of being an enlisted woman on a naval aircraft carrier. We talked about life and her experiences in the military, which was a treat because she shared her experiences unfiltered and straight up. I really enjoyed meeting her.
As expected, we had a full agenda ahead for that day. It started with us watching a tender ship, which was pacing alongside the USS Stennis approximately 60 feet away, offloading ordinance via zip lines connected between the ships. Two CH-53 helicopters that only landed to refuel were also zipping between the two ships to help move the kit.
It was amazing to watch the two large ships moving side by side, transporting large containers from ship to ship, and knowing that in many cases the containers included things that may explode. Wow!
After a day-long itinerary that included a stop at the dentistry, the anchors (by the way, each link in the picture weighs 350 lbs.!), and the flight operations rooms, our fortune’s turned as the flight operations were once again fully functional and we could watch the planes land and take off safely once again.
Seeing an F-18 jettison down the flight deck, and feeling the whole ship shake as it takes off, made me reflect on how American ingenuity continues to ensure our military remains on the cutting edge, and certainly has quite a lot going for it.
It seemed like in the blink of an eye that our day was done, and we were back aboard the C-2 preparing to leave the carrier.
The various pilots and crew that we met seemed to be split on their preference between landing and taking off. For me, when we were shot down the catapult to leave the USS Stennis, my vote was in – that was better than any roller coaster I’ve ever been on!
A short flight later, with our memories whirling from all that we had seen during the past two days, we landed back at Coronado where it all started. We bid farewell to our hosts, some of whom I stay in touch with to this day, and hopefully will for many years to come.
I wish everyone could have the opportunity to participate in the tour I was fortunate enough to attend. I come away from the experience with many things confirmed, some things changed, and a few things that changed me.
What I confirmed is that the United States Navy, as demonstrated by the experiences I saw aboard the USS Stennis, is a crisply run organization regardless of the circumstance. Whether working in the bakery or on the flight line, the men and women that I met were trained professionals and quite proud to be there. I also walked away confirming that the US Navy isn’t perfect, and that there are certainly opportunities for improvement as with any organization, large or small.
I’m also reminded that very young men and women do amazing things that I don’t usually see, such as repairing jet engines, fighting fires on deck, and ensuring that a multi-million dollar aircraft and its crew are safe and secure.
I changed (and I recognize that gets harder as I get older) in that I dispelled the image in my own mind that flying in the military is what one sees glamorized in the movies. I have a completely new appreciation for the hard work and dedication required by a military team – one comprising people from all walks of life, with mission and purpose, and their lives constantly on the line.
My wholehearted appreciation goes out to Captain Pat Byrne, who invited me aboard the USS Stennis and the entire crew that took such great care of us during our tour. They, and my memories of this incredible experience, will stay with me throughout my life.
I hope you enjoyed this account and got a sense of what life on a US aircraft carrier is like, along with some insight into the US Navy. Thank you for reading.