Monday, April 27, 2015

CNV 74-- The Ship

Two rules: 
A) I am purposely not using names in this essay with the exception of Admiral Bowman who arranged this gift to all of us on board the USS John C.Stennis. There were many, many people who made this happen. Most of them were not on the ship but made it possible for us to be there and entertain the sailors. They may or may not want to be mentioned in my blog. One of the performers on this trip is a good friend and fellow Dog who definitely doesn't want to be mentioned in this blog. I didn't get any body's permission, so, to the Gentlemen of the BNSEF (Bohemian Navy Special Entertainment Forces)  You know who you are. Thank you for your service. it was an honor to perform with you all.  I will always remember my Navy buddies.

2) I am breaking this essay into chapters. 
This is chapter one. 

The circumstances....
I was asked by retired Admiral Mike Bowman to be part of a show for the Crew of the USS Stennis CVN 74. At the time they were doing flight operations training in the North Pacific.  The ship and the crew will be deployed somewhere closer to the action in the fall.
There were 12 performers and a support crew of 6 and two producers for a total of 20.  We flew an hour or more out of San Diego in a Military C-2 aircraft to eventually make an "arrested landing" on the flight deck of the Nuclear Aircraft carrier John C. Stennis. 
Suiting up to go observe Flight Deck operations. 

SIDE NOTE: For those who might not know how an aircraft carrier works here is a quick tutorial.  The upper deck of an Aircraft carrier is an airport. But even though it is a huge ship with a crew of 4000, the deck is three times too small for planes to land or take off. In order to slow the plane from airspeed, there are four cables that run the width of the deck. They provide the proper resistance for the weight and speed of the plane to bring it to a stop. To snag these cables a special hook on the tail of the plane (called a tail hook- naturally) is maneuvered by the pilot so that it catches the wire as he lands and the plane stops in 2 seconds.

That is called an arrested landing... basically a controlled crash where you go from 200 miles an hour to 0 in a matter of 2 seconds. Other than experiencing a crash there is no way to explain the feeling.  On the C-2 passengers face backwards. You get pushed back in your seat in a feeling that must be similar to a baseball when it is suddenly stopped by a catchers mitt.  G-force is just a number until you experience it. 
NOTE IN A NOTE: there are four wires so you have four chances to stop. The plane lands at full speed in the event that it misses all four wires. That is called a "bolt" and the plane immediately climbs to make altitude, circle around and try again.
CONTINUING SIDE NOTE: When a plane takes off from this mini floating airport they have the opposite problem. There is not enough deck to attain the ground speed for lift. To facilitate this problem the ship has a steam driven piston that runs the length of the flight deck. They hook the front gear of the plane to a knob attached to the piston which sits inches above the deck in a long slot.  The pilot throttles  the engines to near full speed and at just the right moment a "shooter" hits the red button to release the steam built up in the catapult and in 2 seconds the plane goes from 0 to 200 miles an hour and is airborne. When the catapult is deployed is sounds like something has hit the ship.  There is a loud bang and the ship shutters with the force of a 3.5 earthquake. But more about a catapulted take off later.
Back to the Adventure.
We land. And the plane taxi's to a spot where they can open the cargo door in the tail of the C-2 and we file off. We are led around the conning tower and down two decks.  One if the gang ways is metal grating open to the sea below. It is the first time we realize how fast the ship is moving, or that it is moving at all. We have landed on a quickly moving target. They take our goggles, life vest, ear protection and "cranial's". We are no longer dressed like crash dummies, and the color is coming back to our cheeks. There is lemonade and sandwiches in the Captain's in port office.
We met up with officers who will be our constant escort for the next three days.  Except for show day they kept us on a tight schedule getting a briefing from almost every department head on the ship. 

At one point they took us down to the Ammo magazine. It is where they keep the missiles, bombs and guns, when asked if there were nuclear weapons on board the K-5 said, "I can neither confirm nor deny." There were only certain areas of the ship they asked us not to photograph. This is the only photograph of the missile area that didn't violate that request 

In fact the only part of the ship we were not allowed to see was the nuclear reactor area. The sailors who work in that area have a special tag they wear.  When the color of the tag changes to orange, they are done.  They have absorbed all the radiation their bodies can take.  They are referred to around the ship as the "glow worms".

We watched the flight operations from the bridge, from the flight deck, from vultures row and from the Task Force Commanders observation deck (that is where the Admiral observes operations).  Since it was a training exercise we watched dozens of take offs and landings on the carrier, including night operations. To see an F-18 Hornet hit the after burners leaving the flight deck at night is an amazing fire show almost over shadowing the powerful compression you feel in your chest when you are on flight deck and the Hornets take off.  The captain said, "Until you have actually smelled it and felt it, you don't really get a sense of the magnitude of this operation." A ship is not a quite place, there is a constant rumbling dotted with metallic bangs and jet engines firing. There is a clean smell to the ship mixed with a patina of jet fuel and oil. It is distinctive.

Captain with the Glow Worms
We were DV's while on board. (Distinguished Visitor...the Navy loves acronyms).  Our cabins were spartan military grade but with only two people to a room it was equivalent to officers accommodations.  Technically we enjoyed a commissioned rank while on board.  Our first day we were so tired we were glad to get some rest in our metal bunk beds.  However, our staterooms were directly below the steam catapult.  We experienced the jolt and explosive sound of a 3.5 earth quake every four minutes until 3:00am.  We asked some sailors if the noise and the shaking bothered them.  They said you get used to it and after working 18 hour shifts on the flight deck you can sleep through anything. 
The average age on the ship is 18 to 20 years old. Our group of entertainers raised the average age on board considerably.  All of the sailors are in great physical shape.  There are no elevators from deck to deck and no stairs.  They have ladders.  Steep ladders that require precise navigation to avoid hitting your head or falling on your face. I didn't think to activate my iPhone pedometer to see how far we climbed. There was no cellular service at sea and the wifi was strictly confined to certain areas of the ship. 
We were generally taken to the officers Wardrooms for meals. Good food served 23 hours a day.  One hour each day is a ship wide cleaning duty.  Every member of the crew mans some sort of cleaning device from an electric buffer to a towel and cleans a section of the ship. There is a definite difference in what the officers experience and what the average E-1 experiences.  Down below there are decks with bunks three men high. Only if you are in the top bunk and the infrastructure of the duct work doesn't take the space away do you have more than 14 inches between your bed and the one above. 

Every sailor and pilot we met was friendly and smart and looked like they could be cast immediately in a new version of Top Gun.  A group of three fliers who showed us inside the AWAC were named, Party Boy, Ebola and Motor.  Party Boy was stunningly handsome, but I didn't get a photo of him since we were in one of those "no picture" areas.
In the next chapter I will go more into detail about the show, but my take away from this on board experience is this:  The quality of character, training, intelligence and responsibility of these service men and women is stunning.  You feel in very capable hands. It is how the government should function.  4000 people with differing ideas, backgrounds and abilities come together and perform like the dancers in a ballet troupe to accomplish what would seem the impossible. It is how America should work, all for one and one for all setting aside personalities to make things happen.  It makes congress look like a bunch of ego-centric old fools.
More later,


P. Grecian said...

This is more than cool. Wow. I's...


Tonda said...

What P. Grecian said! Total wow!

Bob Conrad said...

Hi Jay;
My son Darren spent several years on that ship, he is a Nuke and ran the nuclear power plant, he is now on the USS Ronald Regan. He is getting out in about a month, he served 20 years in the Navy. I have a T shirt from that ship, that's about it. I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Tiger said...

What an incredible adventure. I will look forward to the next installment.