Monday, November 25, 2013

Adventures at Sea Part 6

Adventures At Sea (Part 6)

November 25, 2013

Continued from November 19, 2013

When we left the Chapel, we were led back up a whole bunch of stairs.  At least eight flights of them.  We were taken to the Flag Bridge where we would watch night flight ops with the Admiral in his Bridge area.  This is where he controls the whole strike group – from the planes to the supporting ships.  He had a platter full Cowboy Cookies (Barbara Bush’s personal recipe we were told – and they were WONDERFUL!) waiting for us and water, tea, or coffee.  When we got up there the sun was just setting really good over the horizon and it was a beautiful sunset.  There were a couple of planes to come in at this time.  The Admiral explained that landings in the “pink” (the color of the dusk sky) were still considered a night landing.  He said the “pinks” were his favorites. 
The night flight ops were just starting to get underway.  They were getting the pilots in their planes and getting the planes lined up for launch.  It was amazing to see the deck at night.  The lights of the planes and the colored light wands of certain crew on the deck were the only sources of illumination.  The control panels in the Flag Bridge were all light with an orangish color, much like the dashboard of a car when the lights are on at night.  It was very beautiful.  

 Once again, the Admiral was very gracious and very indulgent with our questions.  He talked to us about what it feels like from a pilot’s point of view to land on a carrier and landing in different conditions.  He described the almost four foot window that a pilot had to get the plane on the deck.  I asked him if “call the ball” was actually a real Navy phrase or if it was just something Hollywood added in Top Gun.  The answer was yes, that is an actual term.  He said that there is a series of green lights in a straight horizontal line and then there is a big white/yellow light right in the middle of the green.  This is the meatball.  If a pilot is on the right glide path to land on the carrier, then the meatball will line up in a straight line with the green lights.  If they are coming in too high, the meatball is above the green lights.  If they are too low, the meatball is below the green lights.  When they get within a certain distance the controllers on the deck with ask the pilot to “call the ball” or verify that they actually see the lights lined up and they are on the right glide path.  He answered numerous questions like this and each time he gave in depth answers that we all understood.  He seemed to be a very natural teacher actually.  You could definitely tell that he was proud of the ship and all that it does and all of its people!  And for those that have had any military service, you’ll know what this is, for those that don’t I’ll explain here in just a minute.  I asked him if they still served shit on a shingle (yes, that’s really what they called it back in the day) in the mess halls.  He laughed a minute and asked “how in the world do you know about SOS?”  I told him that my husband is former military and my father-in-law was a Marine and they both talked about how that was one of their most favorite things to eat while in the service.  He told me that yes, they do still have SOS in the mess halls and it was one of his favorites too.  For those who don’t know what that is, it is chipped beef in a cream sauce and its spread over toast.

I’m not sure how long we stayed on the Flag Bridge and even ventured outside on Vulture’s Row (an observation area outside of the Flag Bridge) watching fighter jets taking off and landing.  Just like being on the flight line, I could have totally stood there all night watching.   About 2230, (10:30 p.m.) our escort came back and led us down from the tower back to DV Row.  I didn’t realize how tired I was until we stopped going somewhere.  They told us that they would be back to get us at 6:45 the next morning.  We were free to shower and rest.  

The Ladies DV Head was nice.  It had four stalls and four showers in it with one sink.  It was kind of like being at camp or something.  I showered quickly so I didn’t waste any hot water.  I’m sure that is scarce with 5200+ people on board.  The big fluffy towels that they gave us to use were great and the bath robe was comfy and warm too.  Back in the room, my roommate had found another guest book for us to sign to show that we had stayed in that room.  This one actually had individual pages for us to sign and leave messages for others to come or for those on the ship.  I signed that and then climbed into my bunk at about 11:30.  I chose the top one!   I thought I would have to lay there and read a little bit to get good and sleepy, but it didn’t take long at all for me to be ready for sleep.  I remember watching a couple of planes (and hearing and feeling them) land on the TV in the room and that’s all I remember.  The bed was very comfortable and I slept through night landings!  Yes, I was that worn out!

Check back next week for more to this story!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Adventures at Sea Part 5

Adventures At Sea (Part 5)

November 19, 2013

Continued from November 11, 2013

After spending a while with the Captain, we were lead back down the nine flights of stairs that we’d originally trekked and then down one more flight of stairs – I think (if we hadn’t had guides everywhere we went, I would most definitely have gotten lost!).   We were lead through several different passage ways.  The doorways on the ship are not like a regular door in a house or building, the knee-knocker – or the part of the frame that is part of the metal of the bulkhead – comes up about 1-1/2 to 2 foot off the floor and then the door frame is inserted, so you have to be very, very careful traversing the hallways.  Trust me, as danger prone as I am, I made sure I paid real close attention to where I was going.  We finally made our way to “DV Way”, this is the hallway of visitor rooms that we would be sleeping in much later in the night.  The rooms were beautiful and I know that they were not indicative of the conditions that your average crew-man lives in, but it was comfortable and more than enough for no longer than we were actually in our bunks.  Each room was named after a job with the government that George H. W. Bush had in all his many years serving our country.  I shared the “Ambassador” suite with one of the ladies from Ohio.  We each had a desk and a locker to put things in.  There was a sink and mirror in the along the wall opposite our beds, and then a double bunk compartment type bed unit.  There is a flat screen television in the room too that shows everything that is going on on the flight deck from multiple angles.

                              (This was home sweet home!)

We spend maybe five minutes or so in our rooms and our escorts return to take us to dinner.  We are escorted through the maze of passageways and maybe back up or down a flight of stairs to a beautiful dining room.  The table was set with twelve place settings and was absolutely immaculate.  We were greeted by the Captain; the Admiral; the Admiral’s Chief of Staff – Captain Sean Moriarty; the CAG – the Commander of Airwing Eight “Team Ocho”, Captain Daniel “Dozer” Dwyer; and the Commander of the Destroyer Strike Group “Desron 22”, Captain Kenneth Long.  The Admiral’s Chef had prepared dinner for the twelve of us.  The officers were dispersed through the table amongst us.  I sat beside Captain Moriarty and directly across the table from the Admiral.  We each had name cards in front of us so we knew exactly where to sit and there was a menu provided to tell us what we were about to partake of.  Dinner was spectacular!  We had a garden green salad with lemon and pepper oil dressing to start.  The main course was breaded chicken breast with beurre, blanc sauce, roasted potatoes, and red and green pepper confit.  The chicken was so tender you could have cut it with your fork.  And dessert was a pecan tarte.  We talked with the officers while we ate.  The Admiral is an impressive fellow.  He could pass for Ray Liota’s twin brother.  He is a Naval Academy graduate and an F14 and F18 pilot.  He was very personable and very forth coming with answers to our questions.  All of the gentlemen that we were dining with were amazing men in their service and achievements.  They were all very humble and very gracious hosts.  We were able to meet the cook staff just before we left the dining room.  The chef was assigned to the Admiral, so he went where the Admiral went, the others that were serving us and were helping in the kitchen were regular crewmen working their turns in food services.  I was impressed by the fact that the Admiral knew a little bit about each one of the young men and was able to share it with us.

                           (Our dining room for the evening)

After an amazing dinner and even better conversation, our escorts came to get us.  We were led, again through many passageways and I don’t remember how many stairs, to the hospital area of the ship.  We met with the ship’s doctor and saw their ER and their OR, the ICU, the fifty bed sick bay, and the physical therapy room.  They have a lab that can do basic blood work.  They have basic digital x-ray capabilities.  And they can do some surgeries, including oral and maxillofacial surgery while underway.  For most cases, if there is a way to transport a sailor to a land based hospital for surgery, this is what they do, but if they have no choice, they have capabilities of doing almost anything on board.  We learned that the airwing also travels with a flight surgeon.

When we left the hospital area we were taken to the library, internet access area, and chapel.  We met with the Chaplain and he took us into the chapel where a group of sailors were practicing a song for Sunday morning’s worship service.  This was the type of singing that gave you goose bumps on your arms and made you want to holler “AMEN” at the end!  Absolutely beautiful!   We were able to talk with them afterwards and they were truly, an incredible group of young Americans!    On our way out of the Chapel and to our next stop, we did pass the NCIS office!  No, sadly there was no Dinozzo, Gibbs, or Callen waiting on us, but we got to see the door.

Check back next week for more to this story!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Adventures at Sea Part 4

Adventures At Sea (Part 4)

November 11, 2013

Happy Veterans Day to all the Veterans, past, present, and future that I have the privilege of knowing.  Thank you all so very much for your service and your love for country and family.  Thank you for your sacrifices and for willingly giving of yourselves so that I might have the freedom to write on a site like this.  Thank you and God bless you all!

Continued from November 5, 2013

After spending roughly about an hour and a half outside on the flight deck, we were escorted back inside and given a few minutes to catch our breath.  We began the ten-story climb up to the Primary Flight Deck.  If you are not in good shape, these steps will get you!  They are steep and they are many.  The PriFlight deck is the top deck in the tower of the island.  It is basically air traffic control.  They are controlling the landing and launching of all the aircraft.  We were able to talk with the Air Boss and the Mini Boss while we were up there for them to explain what they do.  They also have to keep track of what type of aircraft is landing and communicate that to the sailors in charge of the arresting cables as each one has to be set for a particular type of plane depending on the weight of the plane.  We were also told of their good luck disco ball that hangs between the Boss and Mini Boss’ seats.  They use it to help the pilots that might be having a little trouble getting on the deck.  It’s their “talisman.”  The view out over the deck up there is astounding because you can see everything that is going on down below.

                          (This is me in the Mini Boss's Seat)
                                         (Disco Ball)
                                         (View of the Stern from PriFlight)
                            (View of the Bow from PriFlight)

We spent roughly forty-five minutes in PriFlight (time really had no meaning to us on this trip – we were just so enthralled with everything we were seeing) and we descended one flight down to the Bridge.  Next to the flight deck, this is probably the second busiest place that we have seen so far.  This is where everything related to the ship runs.  The navigation is up here, the Officer of the Watch – I think that was his title – is in charge of putting the ship into proper position with his instructions in order to launch or land aircraft.  This has to do with speed of the ship itself and with natural wind direction and ocean movements.  It was fascinating to watch and listen to him call out commands to those in charge of steering the ship and those controlling speed.  The young lady that was steering the ship was just twenty years old and a tiny little person.  She explained to us what she sees on her screen when she is steering the ship.  She also explained that they usually alternate running of the four 21’ bronze propellers.  Like on Thursday, they were running propellers 2 and 4 and they would switch over on Friday to propellers 1 and 3.  It is not as easy to see out of the windows from the bridge.  The metal walls go up taller than it did up in PriFlight, so for short people like me, there are seven wooden boxes to stand up on and see out the windows.  Each box had one of the Seven Dwarfs engraved in it.  I found Grumpy and Sneezy while I was there! 
                            (View from Bridge)

 We were able to spend quite a bit of time with the Captain while we were up here.  We even got to sit in the Captain’s chair and have our pictures made.  This was a little daunting with him standing right there beside of us, but he was very gracious and very humble.  After each of us had our turn and our picture made we watched the next wave of flight operations, launching and landings from the bridge.  The Captain explained to us what all of the different shirt colors meant on the deck.  He explained this as they are preparing to start launching aircraft.  The Red Shirts are the ones responsible for arming, disarming, and loading weapons on the aircraft.  Yellow Shirts are the Shooters – they’re the ones responsible for moving the planes into position and then giving the pilot direction as to when to rev up and finally after all checks are made, giving the go for them to catapult the aircraft off the deck.  The White Shirts are responsible for safety related jobs including final inspection of the aircraft’s exterior and movements prior to launching.  Green Shirts are responsible for hooking the planes to the shuttle for the catapult and are responsible for handling the arresting wires.  Blue Shirts operate elevators and drive the tractors that pull the aircraft or that sweep the deck.  Purple Shirts are the ones responsible for fueling the aircraft (all fuel lines and fuel related rooms and valves throughout the ship are painted that same bright purple) – they call them “the grapes”.   And finally the Silver Suits, those are the guys/gals that you don’t want to have to see; they are the ones that handle fires or crashes.   After he explained to us the shirts and their jobs, he took us through the whole process of how they hook the planes to the cats and what each person does when they’re doing that and how the cat has to be set for the correct type of launch – with or without afterburners – the pilot signed up for.  Due to a pilot error just before his launch – he changed his mind about wanting the afterburners on just before he launched – there was a huge back up of planes waiting to launch, so the Captain pulled all waiting aircraft up to the front of the deck to launch off of catapults 1 and 2 and as soon as they launched the pilot that had caused the backup, they quickly covered up cats 3 and 4 and started landing aircraft.  Within less than two minutes of launching the last plane off of cat 4, they had planes landing in that area.  They can actually do that faster and I’m estimating quite long – remember time didn’t have much meaning to me on this trip!  Needless to say, the Captain was not too happy about the snafu.  He didn’t strike me as a fellow that takes messing up a schedule lightly!   They can land a plane every forty-five seconds!  Absolutely AMAZING!  

                            (Me in the Captain's Chair)
                           (That's the Captain over to the right)

Check back next week for more to this story!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Adventures At Sea Part 3

Adventures At Sea (Part 3)

November 5, 2013

Continued from October 29, 2013

The Captain turned us over to the Public Affairs Officer and two of the Safety Officers and tells us he will see us on the Bridge later.  The Safety Officers tell us what to expect while we are out on the flight deck.  Yes, out there amongst the planes taking off and landing.  They show us on a diagram the route that we will take across the flight deck to the boundary where we will be safely out of the way of the aircraft and any of the sailors working on the deck.  We have to put on long sleeves (its August and we’re in the southern part of the North Atlantic so the outside temps are in the upper 90’s but no one goes onto the flight deck without long sleeves on), a safety vest, and the cranial helmet and goggles again (the foamy earplugs are optional, but I opt for them).  We are lead through some doors into a room where they control everything that is going on, on the flight deck.  They have a scale version of the flight deck on a raised counter; they call it the Ouija board.  There are tiny scale models of all the aircraft on board so they can show where each is parked or which ones are moving.  They use colored thumb tacks to put in the plane models to show if the plane needs fuel, or if it needs something repaired.  They even have a really huge push pin to show the Admiral’s plane.  Below the counter is a scale version of the hangar bay so they know what is down there as well.   After we spend some time there, we head out to the flight deck.  

This really feels like a scene from a movie.  I would have thought so if it had not been for the sounds, the smells, and the feel of everything around me.  I hear the engines of different jets starting up and beginning to move into position.  I smell the jet fuel, the salt air, and a rubber smell I’m assuming is from the tires when they land.  I feel the heat of the air around us, the heat from the sun shining on that deck, and the heat from the jets.  I feel the wind which seems to blow constantly across the 4.5 acres of flat flight deck.  I also feel the blasts from some of the jets as we move around the deck.  I see all the action and all the different colored shirts (each color has a purpose that I’ll tell more about later) on the deck all working in sync to accomplish the job of launching all the aircraft waiting to become airborne.   It is an amazing and utterly breath-taking process.  They communicate mostly with hand signals to each other and to the pilots in the jets.  We make our way over to the out of bounds area where we will watch the aircraft launch.  We are probably less than 20 feet away from catapult 1.  We stand out there for probably 30-45 minutes watching plane after plane take off.  The first one to launch is the C2 that we flew in on.  It’ll come back tomorrow and take us away, but for the time being, it is leaving without us!  Then next are the F-18 Hornets and F-18 Super Hornets.  I do not have words to describe what it truly feels like to stand there beside this air plane as it is launched and knowing that it goes from 0-165 mph within about 3 seconds is absolutely astounding.  You can feel the blast of power, air from the back of the jet as the blast deflector rises into place and feel in the deck the shuttle moving toward the front wheel of the plane.  Once the plane is secured to the shuttle and all the checks are made, the plane will rev up to full power and that force feels like it’s going to knock you off the deck.  I’m so amazed and impressed by the men and women that deal with that blast each and every day for hours on end.  And then, the shooters give the go ahead and the plane is launched into the blue sky.  You feel the blast as it’s going by and then you feel it a little bit in a jolt on the ship itself.  Wow!!  What a feeling!  The only thing that would be better to me than standing there watching one launch would be to be in it and be launched!  

I don’t want to leave where we are watching the planes launch, but they take us around the back side of the island to the rear of the ship where the arresting cables are.  It’s time for them to switch over from launch mode to recovery mode.  They can do this in roughly a little over a minute and aircraft can start landing in their set pattern.  This side of things is just as breath taking and awe inspiring as the launching, probably even more so after I learn more about aircraft landings later in my trip.  As we stand there watching I am amazed at how precise it is when the plane comes in with the tail hook in the right position and snags the arresting cable and is totally stopped.  You can feel the cables catching with such force.  It’s amazing that the cables are capable of stopping such aircraft, but they do, time and time again.  Most of the pilots seem to snag the second cable and that part amazes me too that they are able to be that precise with such a huge piece of airplane.  If a plane misses the arresting cable when trying to land, they are called bolters, and they keep going and take off on the other side of the deck and get back into the landing line up to try it again.   We were fortunate enough to have a Navy cameraman with us when the jets were landing and he snapped a picture of us with the landing jet behind us.

Check back next week for more to this story!