Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Adventures At Sea Part 2

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!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Adventures At Sea

Adventures At Sea

October 23, 2013

With Veteran’s Day coming up next month, I would like to devote the next few blogs to telling you of my adventures at sea aboard the USS George H. W. Bush as a Distinguished Visitor on August 8-9, 2013.  I do not know how many blogs it will take to properly detail everything, but I really want a chance to convey the depth of everything that I saw and experienced while on this trip.  I want you all to experience this trip through my words and descriptions!  I will also try to include some photos!

Anyone that has known me any length of time knows that I am absolutely fascinated with the Armed Services, especially Military Aircraft.  You’ll also know that until Lord of the Rings came out, my one and only, all-time favorite movie was Top Gun – hands down, bar none, absolute favorite!  I have even seen the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds in shows at our local regional airport.  My goal in life growing up was to join the military and do something - anything, with planes.  Just in case you didn’t read my previous blog, that was not the path my life took, but I have never lost the fascination.  

The last four years, I’ve been attending a conference in Norfolk in the summer for my teaching job and I have been able to tour some Navy vessels in person.  Being the curious and nosy person that I am, I have enjoyed these adventures tremendously!  I have toured the USS Wisconsin, a decommissioned Battleship that is now a museum at the Nauticus Naval History Museum in Norfolk.  I have been privileged and honored to be welcomed aboard the USS Helena (SSN 725), a Los Angeles Class Submarine, the USS San Jacinto (CG 56) a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, and the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, all while in port at the Norfolk Naval Station and all very much an active part of today’s Navy.  From a military nut perspective, they were all amazing trips and I was so impressed by our military personnel that I had opportunity to meet.  

During my visit aboard the USS San Jacinto, I was watching the fighter jets circling the naval base and I asked one of the officers that was with our tour group, “What kind of chance do you think I would have of ever getting a ride in one of those jets?”   He kind of chuckled at me and told me to write to my Congressmen and ask them for help with it and see what happened.   In August of 2012, I wrote a letter to Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Congressman Morgan Griffith of the 9th District of Virginia and asked them if they could help me achieve this dream.  I told them how a trip of this nature would physically, mentally, and emotionally incorporate all areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) learning and then some.  The first-hand knowledge and experience that I could bring back to these students would be so worthwhile and beneficial.  I could explain to the students how many individual drawings are required for a design such as a Navy Fighter Jet.  I could explain the science behind the jet propulsion having experienced it.  I could describe from personal experience the effects of G-forces on the human body.  The lessons could be endless.  About three weeks later, I received information from both offices that a petition had been made to the Department of the Navy on my behalf!  Needless to say, I was thrilled!

When the official response came back from the Navy about three to four weeks after that, they informed me that they could not offer a flight in a Navy Jet, but they could offer me a DV Embark Trip aboard an underway aircraft carrier.  The DV Embark program is the Distinguished Visitor (DV) Embark Program places key leaders from all sectors of society - corporate, civic, government, education, non-profit and service - aboard a deployed carrier. While aboard, embarkees meet the talented young men and women who bring these ships to life, and they experience first-hand how the Navy is contributing to the security of the United States, and to the stability of the global community.  DVs are flown via Navy helicopter or aboard a C-2 Greyhound Carrier Onboard Delivery aircraft, or COD, to a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier operating at sea. Guests spend one or two days meeting with the ship's leaders, interacting with Sailors and Marines, touring the ship and observing a full spectrum of operations.   I replied to them immediately to let them know that I was most definitely interested and I would love to go whenever the opportunity arose.  This was in September of 2012.

Nearly one full year later, I still had not heard anything from the Navy about this trip so I had almost given up hope until July of this year, when I received an email from the Department of the Navy telling me that they had an Embark opportunity aboard the USS George H. W. Bush on August 8-9, 2013.  After filling out the paperwork required for the back ground check, I received confirmation that I would be among a group of civilians to fly via C2 Greyhound to the USS GHWB while it is underway and conducting flight operations somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean!   I left home on August 7, 2013 bound for Norfolk Naval Station, not knowing exactly where I was going, just knowing that I was going to be living a dream-come-true for a couple of days and anticipating every moment of this trip!!

Check back next week for more to this story!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hard Questions

October 15, 2013

There are times in dealing with my students that they will ask me some really tough questions.  Sometimes those questions are about “when I was their age.”  Those are some of the hardest things to talk with them about.  I try to be totally honest with them and at the same time not glorify any of the stupid decisions that I made as a teenager.  I know how that teenage mind works, in that right now, to all of them, any adult is “stupid” and they have all the answers.  I try to answer to these questions as honest as I can and with enough information that hopefully, it’ll plant a seed of sorts and maybe they will remember it at a later date.

The other day, one of my boys came up next to my desk and asked me, “Mrs. Smith, would you recommend getting married at 18 years old?”  Whew!  This one blew me away because I really had to think on how to answer this properly.  I thought back to my 18 year old self and remembered that nothing any adult I knew said to me about that subject mattered at the time and yet I chose to answer him as honestly and directly as possible.  

My response to this young man was:  “No, personally I would not recommend getting married so young.  You may be like my parents or some other couples that I know and get married at 17 or 18 years old and be blessed to stay with that person for all of your life, truly till death do you part.  But, then again, you could get married at 18 years old and be as I was; on my own with rent, utility bills, a vehicle payment, and divorced before I turned 21.”  He looked at me kind of strange for a moment.  My students generally do not know that I was married before.   So to keep up the momentum of my parental speech to him, I kept going answering the unspoken question in his eyes.  “Yes, I was married when I was 18 years old.  And I whole-heartedly believe that my husband and I were way too young to get married.  We were both just babies.  We hadn’t had a chance to truly live and see that there were other people and other places beyond the small town that we grew up in.  I was still in college and due to responsibilities of life, decided not to pursue a degree past an Associate’s degree at the time and now, I really wish I had gone on while I was going and my mind was much younger.   I changed who I was and the things that I wanted to do in life for this person and I have many, many regrets about those decisions.”

My student sat down at that point and studied me for a few minutes.  Then he finally asked, “If you could do it all over again, what would you do different?”  Well that’s the question, isn’t it?  What would I do different if I could do things all over again?  I believe that things happen for a reason.  I know that I would not be where I am now without all of my “past” that I’ve lived through and learned through.  If I did things differently, I might not have met and fell head-over-heels in love with the man I am married to now.  If I had done things differently I might not be a teacher and have students ask me these tough questions.   Again, I took a moment to ponder my answer to this young man.  And I finally told him: “I would love to tell you that yes; I’d go back and change everything.  I’d go to the Air Force or the Naval Academy like I dreamed of doing.  I would serve my time and then some in our armed forces.  I would be somewhere other than here, right now.  But, I can’t do that.  All of that ‘junk’ that is behind me is what has made me who I am, so would I do things differently, no, probably not.  If I could have saved me and my ex-husband the pain and hurt that a divorce causes, that I would definitely change that but no, as for everything else, I can’t say 100% that I would change anything right here, right now.  Do I wish that I had waited longer to get married?  Yes, there are many times I wish that, but I cannot change what has already been.”

Again, he studies me for a moment and he asks, “So do you think your ex-husband ruined your life?”  That one I didn’t have to think about before I answered him.  “No, my ex-husband didn’t ruin my life.  Things happen with people and as they grow up they tend to change. Notions that you once thought were so important as a teenager don’t seem so important as you get older.  So no, he didn’t ruin my life.  Did we hurt each other?  Yes, we did.  But that doesn’t mean that we ruined each other lives, or that we are bad people.  It just means that we saw that we couldn’t get along as a married couple and we chose to go our separate ways.”  

My student didn’t comment too much after that.  I don’t know if he was pondering my words or if he just didn’t want to hear my sermon anymore.  I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer to the original question that my student asked, but this was my answer to him.  Do I hope that he waits until he’s lived a little before getting married?  Yes, I do, for his sake and for his wife’s sake.  Both of them deserve a chance to be young and enjoy a little of life before the everyday responsibilities of adulthood take over.   I don’t know if a seed was planted with this young man or not, but maybe he’ll think about my answers before diving in head first!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


October 8, 2013

Having been a high school teacher for eight years now, not much with regards to teenagers and their actions surprises me.  I’ve seen and heard many things from teens over the last eight years that I never thought would be possible.  I’ve had them come to me and confess the events of their weekends, good, bad, indifferent, and very much usually embarrassing – at least for me to listen to.  I’ve had them tell me of their home situations and so many of them have seen way more in their short years of life than I have seen in all of mine.  I’ve watched many of them stumble along having no clue what the real world is going to be like in a few years when they’re out there floundering in it.  I’ve had some that were more “together” than many adults I know.  I’ve even witnessed their “expressing themselves” in their outfits and hair styles as they enter the school daily.  Occasionally though, these guys and life in general throws you a curve and you have to stand back and reevaluate things.  I received one of those curves this past week with some of my students.  

I generally have students in my class anywhere from 55 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes, so I am with them longer than most teachers in their day.  I’ve come to know my students in my morning session pretty well over the beginning course of this school year.  They are a good group of kids that are genuinely polite and are actually interested in the subject matter.  They come in, get their things out and get busy without prompting.  In actuality, they are truly a teacher’s dream class come true.  This past week, we had our annual back to school picnic and something we call “shop wars,” where each class competes in different Minute to Win It type games.  The shop with the most points at the end of the day receives a pizza party.   My students had democratically elected a class member as their team captain and on the morning of the event, he was going over the games with them and they were all engaged and volunteering for who wanted to do which event.  I had stepped over to the class directly next door to me and was “pestering” those students trying to get them excited and ready to go too.  I was gone probably a total of 2 minutes.  When I stepped back into my classroom, my students were in a huddle toward the front of my class.  They looked like the football team just before the game on Friday nights.  There were tall ones, short ones, ones from different schools, different back grounds, different parts of town, but in that moment, they were one.  Their captain was giving them a pep talk.  This was a pep talk that would definitely move you to action!  From a 16 year old boy, it was an awesome pep talk!  He told them he was already proud of them, no matter what the score and that he hoped that each one of them went out there and had fun and that they would all work together and support each other.  The next thing I witness is that they are all bowed together in prayer, the student having asked the others if it would be alright if he prayed and they all said “yes, please”.  He prayed one of the most sincere and heartfelt prayers I have ever heard prayed in my life.  At the end, every one of the students said “Amen.”  

I sat there for the longest time watching them and trying to take it all in.  I have never seen a group of students so kind and so spiritual.  At that moment, I was in awe of this group of young people.  I was also a very proud and very humbled teacher, as well as humbled human.    There are definitely times when these kids absolutely amaze me and absolutely take my breath away.  I’m so glad that I was able to witness this simple act and I’m proud to say that these are my students!!  Even though I am their teacher, this just goes to show that I can learn something from them from time to time too!