Adventures At Sea (Part 2)
October 29, 2013
This is a continuance of the Adventures At Sea story that I started in the October 23, 2013 blog.
On the morning of August 8, 2013, I arrive at the Tours and Pass office at Norfolk Naval Station at about 9:45 a.m. I knew I didn’t have to be there until 11 a.m., but I always panic when I am driving in Norfolk traffic and when I’m not totally sure where I am going, not to mention I was so excited about the trip I couldn’t sit still in a hotel room any longer. I met the group I would be traveling with. My group consisted of a pulmonologist and his wife from West Virginia, a Social Studies teacher and his wife from OH, and two other Social Studies teachers from OH. (The ironic thing was the doctor’s wife and the teacher’s wife actually grew up in the same town with the same Vice Admiral that helped them to get their trip.) We were escorted through the maze of the Navy base to the air strip where our chariot was awaiting. There we were briefed on the safety and features of the C2 Greyhound (COD) and what we could expect while on board and were suited up with our life vests, foamy earplugs, and cranial helmets and goggles.
We boarded the COD from the back – that was interesting in itself, and were strapped into the seats with a four-point harness. The wildest part about the inside of the plane was that we were facing backwards the whole time. We took off from Norfolk Naval Station right at Noon. The take-off and the actual flight itself were not that different from a regular commercial flight. I was a little worried about motion sickness with the whole flying backwards thing, but it didn’t bother me. The plane was very loud, so even when we were given the all clear to take the cranial helmets and goggles off, we had to leave the foamy earplugs in or the noise was over whelming. There was a young Navy officer that moved into the seat beside of me as we were traveling. He is actually a pilot of the C2 and he was traveling out to the carrier for some training. We chatted most of the way to the carrier and he explained a lot about the aircraft and about carrier landings in an aircraft that big. I struggled to hear him sometimes over the noise but it was calming to have someone to talk to. There are only two small windows (about 6” or 8” in diameter) in the passenger area of the plane and I just happened to be sitting behind one of them. As we approached the carrier, we had to circle her several times and I could see out of that little window to the mammoth ship that awaited us below. Finally we were told to be sure our helmets were on securely and goggles down and that our straps were tight on the seat belt as we had been put in to the line-up for landing. The flight crew told us that they would wave an arm in the air to alert us that we were coming in for the landing and in less than five seconds after that we’d be on deck and stopped. The anticipation is building in me at this point. I’m trying to seem as cool as I can since there is a pilot sitting beside of me, so I sit there with my arms tucked in tight to my side and my hands folded over the buckle of the harness straps so I wouldn’t be tempted to have a white knuckle grip on the armrests of the seat. The crew starts waving their arm in the air and I feel the plane start really descending and that part feels much like a commercial landing but just as soon as I feel the wheels touch, we are stopped. It doesn’t really jerk you as much as I thought it would. It kind of pulls you back into the seat and that’s really it. I survived my first arrested landing on a carrier going from 105 to 0 miles per hour in two seconds!
(This was our actual landing on board!)
As we taxied to the parking area for the COD they started opening the back end of the plane. There was exhaust and steam floating around as the door opened and the sunlight poured into the opening. To my eyes it was totally a scene from my favorite movie. We were escorted off of the COD first and literally whisked into the man door in the side of the island. We were taken through some twists and turns and then into a beautiful room where we were greeted by the ship’s command. As we removed our helmets and got oriented to our surroundings, the gentlemen started introducing themselves. We were greeted by Rear Admiral John C. Aquilino, the Commander of Carrier Strike Group Two; Captain Andrew Loiselle, the Commander of the USS GHWB; Commander Matthew Paradise, the Executive Officer of the USS GHWB; and CMDCM David Carter, the Command Master Chief of the USS GHWB. They welcomed us all with handshakes and smiles as if we were all long lost friends. The Captain and the Admiral had both known and flown with the Vice Admiral that two from our group knew. We all exchanged greetings and all but the Captain excused themselves to get back to the work of running an underway aircraft carrier.
The Captain continued to talk with us all and he began telling stories of the ship itself. The USS GHWB is the last of the Nimitz Class of aircraft carriers. It is currently the largest carrier we have in our Navy. And the quick fact that I had not thought about was that it is the only ship in the US Navy to have a living name-sake. He told us about the room that we were in, in that it is supposed to be a replica of the dining and living room of the Bush’s Kennebunkport, Maine home. He told us the story of President and Mrs. Bush touring the room for the first time and some of the humorous events that took place due to Mrs. Bush not being in one of the pictures that was hanging around the room. He also told us of his first meeting with the President and Mrs. Bush in Maine just before the Change of Command Ceremony where he and Admiral Aquilino would assume command. He talked of how interesting it was to talk to President Bush being a former Navy pilot and how wonderfully sweet and kind Mrs. Bush was to them while they were there. Then he told us that the President and Mrs. Bush were unable to attend the Change of Command Ceremony, but after the ceremony, Dorothy Bush – the ship’s sponsor and daughter to the Bush’s – was standing to the side of the people milling near him talking on the telephone and she motioned for him to come to where she was. She handed him her cell phone and said “Here, Daddy wants to talk to you.” The President had called to talk to him on this big day. After regaling us with some history and welcoming us aboard, the Captain invited us to sign the ship’s guest book that will one day be on display in the Smithsonian, to show that we were guests aboard the USS GHWB. Our signatures will be in the same guest book as Both Presidents and Mrs. Bush’s.
Check back next week for more to this story!