On Sunday, April 25th, myself and several other bloggers were fortunate to be a part of the US Navy's 'Distinguished Visitor' program. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity provided us with a unique look into the inner workings of the Navy - giving us unfiltered access to the ship and it's crew for an entire day.
A week after returning home, my head continues to process this lifetime experience. In a word, it was humbling. In exchange for the privilege of this adventure, we were asked to do one simple thing - tell the rest of America about THEIR Navy. In the coming weeks, I hope to capture not only the chronological activities of the trip, but also some of the great takeaways.
First and foremost, the men and women serving aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) are a proud and patriotic bunch. Regardless of their role, from fighter pilot to ship cook, each person we ran into couldn't have been more proud to tell us how their role was critical to the larger story. These folks exude a sense of pride unlike anything I'd seen.
Launched on February 13th, 1988, the USS Abraham Lincoln ('Abe') is a technological marvel. Over 1,092 feet long (about three NFL football fields), the ship carries a crew of 3,200 plus 2,480 from the air wing. The area of the flight deck is approximately 4.5 acres. The ship is nuclear powered, offering virtually unlimited distance, limited only by the lifespan of the reactors themselves - about 20 years. It carries approximately 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, and is capable of launching / landing about one every minute.
Optimizing for Efficiency
When we joined the crew of Abe, the ship was a couple hundred miles off the coast of San Diego, and the Coronado Island Naval Base, where our group initially met. The ship and her crew were conducting Tailored Ship's Training Activity, or TSTA.
Coming out of repairs, dry dock, or similar, TSTA is a multi-phase training simulation designed to get veteran and new crew (also known as 'nuggets') acclimated with routine and not so routine activities. This process ensures a basic level of readiness and prepares the ship and her crew for mission deployment.
Factoring the approximate 30% annual turnover with the complexity and inherent danger of simply standing on a flight deck, you quickly realize why it's so critical to maintain a high degree of efficiency and awareness before deploying for a mission.
After months of anticipation, our journey had finally begun. We met at the Coronado Island Naval Base on an otherwise uneventful Sunday morning. We started our morning with a briefing by Commander Pauleen Storum, who gave us an overview of the Navy, and let us know what was in store for us during the next twenty-six hours.
After the overview of the Navy, it was time to prepare for our flight in a C2-A Greyhound. Nicknamed the "COD" for Carrier Onboard Delivery, this plane is a workhorse, capable of transporting up to 10,000 pounds of cargo and crew to and from Navy ships.
Pilot Bryan Delong spent the next 30 minutes reminding us why we had to sign waivers to take this trip. He politely asked that we "resist the childhood urge to touch things we don't understand". No problem.
He also advised that, while our takeoff would be rather routine, landing on an aircraft carrier would be unlike anything we'd experienced. Given the relatively short amount of runway, we'd be 'caught' by a trap wire during landing, and would decelerate from 105 mph to 0 in about two seconds.
Off the group goes, strapping on all sorts of safety gear, and then boarding our COD for the trip to the USS Lincoln. The trip over was full of anticipation and excitement. I'm not sure any of us really understood what we were about to experience.
After about an hour in the air, we finally touched down on Abe. The back of the Greyhound opened up, and we're immediately immersed in a world unlike anything we'd experienced. Some who had traveled this path before us had described it as 'stepping onto a different planet'. That was about right. Nothing could have prepared us for the experience we were about to have.
I hope this provided some level of context around the trip itself. Next up, we'll pick up our visit by meeting the commanding officers of the USS Lincoln, and will also talk a bit about the Navy's impressive use of Social Media.