Over the years I’ve traveled on many field assignments, met CEOs of the biggest companies on earth, and powerful world leaders. In the past I’ve been humbled by some of these experiences. But last week I had one of the most truly humbling and eye-opening experiences of my life, and it had nothing to do with meeting an executive or a member of royalty.
It was the men and women of The United States Navy.
As a business news producer, I will probably never be assigned to cover a war, let alone be near one. The closest I would get to cover a war would be reporting stories about the battles inside the boardrooms of Corporate America. But this time I had the rare opportunity to be a guest on the USS Harry S. Truman. It is one of the finest ships of our great Navy and one of our nation’s biggest aircraft carriers. I had the privilege of having Commanding Officer Captain Joe Clarkson, Executive Officer Captain John Meier and Reactor Officer Captain Kevin Hill give me a rare inside look at inner workings of what made this ‘floating city’ run.
Okay, before I get to my trip let's go behind the numbers. Based on data from Government Executive US Navy spent $84.62 billion in fiscal 2008. Top 5 Navy contractors are Northrop Grumman with contracts worth $10.1 billion, 10.53% of the marketshare, Lockheed Martin earned $9.99 billion, 10.41% of Navy's business, Boeing did business of $7.75 billion, that's 7.36% share, General Dynamics awarded contracts of $6.48 billion, 6.75%, and Raytheon $5.06 billion, 5.28% of business. Click here to see a full list.
Now, back to USS Harry S Truman.
Captain Clarkson told me they have 3000 sailors on board that make up the heart and soul of the ship.
These hardworking servicemen and women do everything you can and can’t imagine. They run the reactor plant, run the hotel, cook the meals, run the airport, and do the maintenance on the catapults and arresting gear and all the other countless critical elements throughout the ship. The Captain also mentioned “the air wing or the squadrons bring their own personnel onboard who fly the aircraft and maintain the aircraft [so] we usually have about 1500 from the squadrons. Any given day we’re up around 4500 people on the ship.”
“The ship is a neat machine. It has a lot of cool stuff like the propulsion plant and all the stuff on the flight deck, but really what makes this ship really special is the people,” Clarkson said.
Captain Hill and Lieutenant Commander Ray Glenn also took the time to shepherd us around to meet the sailors onboard. I have never seen a collected group that was so dedicated to their jobs, no matter how tough or mundane the tasks may be. Every job had a purpose. Everyone took his or her job very seriously. And all their ‘titles’ made perfect sense!
I met the ‘air boss’, who controls just about everything flight deck related, 4.5 acres of space in the middle of the ocean. The ‘air traffic control room’ allows pilots to “keep track of every airplane that is airborne, that is going to launch, inbound and on the approach all on one screen.” One pilot called it the “one-stop shop” for every airplane status.
One flight instructor described it best: [Imagine a] “150 mile airplane that weighs about 50,000 pounds and put it in a landing area that’s about 150 feet wide and 200 feet long. If you don’t put it on that little piece you’re not going to catch one of those wires.” That’s a pretty small margin of error! And in times of bad weather, the deck itself can move 15 – 20 feet up and down - and the wind and rain can also interfere with visibility. Even worse, they’re doing this after a 5 – 6 hour combat missions, which they’ve flown for up to 1000 miles. One pilot summed it all up quite simply: “It’s hard, it’s hard.”
Meantime, pilots are trained to perform a ‘hook-landing’ on these carriers. In short … a so-called ‘arresting gear’ has to be at the correct tension for five different types of planes (airspeed and gross weight) that land, constant adjustment of the cables. “You can imagine it’s pretty important we get the right weight setting set for the next airplane that’s going to land,” said the air boss. To put it in context, imagine flying a jet and trying to land on a small runway in the middle of the ocean and needing to use a hook as your only way of hitting the breaks on the carrier. It’s not an easy job!
I also had a chance to meet the ‘weapons boss’ who is in charge of coordinating the movement and management of ammunition. So who keeps the ship powered up? Reactor Office Captain Hill. Hill’s unit produces power for propulsion, electric power and catapulting airplanes in aircraft carriers. A huge team of cooking specialist’s pumps out about 18,150 meals a day for the sailors. Sailors can then work off their meals at the ‘Seaside Gym,’ a gorgeous view of the ocean while you work out.
Other departments I visited included: waste management, carpenter aka ‘gift shop’, medical and dental offices, bake shop, chapel, library and media center. I’m sure there was much more I didn’t see on the ship… the classified stuff, maybe?
All in all, I learned one thing – that a sailor’s job is never easy. But it’s one that’s filled with many responsibilities. I was very grateful to get a glimpse of our Navy … and the men and women who make the daily sacrifice of protecting our nation each and every day.
My special thanks to Captain Hill and Lieutenant Commander Glenn for making this an unforgettable experience.
To all the military veterans and current officers serving in the US military, Happy Veteran’s Day!