I was very honored to have been invited aboard the USS Stennis. It was a once in a lifetime experience. I had never been at sea before and even though I was on an enormous vessel, the ocean is vast. We were but a mere speck. As a middle earth dweller, I felt very small and insecure. I ventured to the conning tower a couple times to observe the ocean and watch the large sharks that followed the ship. Don’t fall overboard; you don’t have much chance of rescue.
The day before we pulled into port, I was jolted from slumber by a distant rumble, thwack, and roar. I was a bit freaked, did we hit something, was the boat sinking? About thirty seconds later the same heavy vibration and horrendous noise. Ahh, the catapult was being engaged to send the planes back to base. Our bunks were in the front of the ship so we got the loudest noise of the fling and boom of the jet engine gunning itself skyward. They could not launch from dock because they need several miles of open space. No point in trying to sleep, took a shower, and went to breakfast because Julie was working.
Disconcerting to see the stacks of empty body bags. An unfortunate reminder of the harsh reality of war. People die and there is no safe place. I didn’t feel frightened of attack but was a bit worried about sinking. Julie just said to swim away or I’d be pulled under by the surface tension. It was rather distressing to watch the black stream of sewage and waste trail behind the ship. They brought very little trash back to port. I suppose it would be a logistical nightmare but there must be some method to reduce environmental harm to the ocean from ships. I doubt that the US Navy is the only polluter. With the advent of unpersonned drones, there will be less need for aircraft carriers. These colossal transporters may phase out of existence someday.
We spent five days at sea. Under full power, they could have returned much faster but the decision had been made not to pull in during the weekend or on a holiday, Memorial Day 2002. We weren’t allowed up on the flight deck except for a couple special events due to safety issues. I felt a bit glum because I was deprived of sunlight. I would not of done well if I had a job below deck; no wonder people get depressed while deployed. You become a mole person and time becomes warped. We sailed into port of San Diego, California on a sunny Tuesday morning. My niece and I packed our luggage but only took an overnight bag. We stood topside to watch the crowd and the “first on shore” sailors. It is a great honor to be allowed to leave the ship earliest. We weren’t scheduled to get off for an hour later.
Her husband was waiting and they enthusiastically kissed. Julie warned me about the surfing sidewalk and she was right. All of a sudden it seemed like it was rising up at me. I had to get my “land legs” back. It took a couple hours until my equilibrium returned. We went out to lunch and back to their place. I wanted to stay at a hotel but they insisted that I sleep there. It was a bit awkward since they wanted to be intimate. I felt like a third wheel. We picked up our luggage the next day. I mailed the presents home since the airlines had already implemented a lot of restrictions. A next day I departed from the fabulous San Diego train station to Los Angeles. Hung out with friends for a couple days and flew back to Minnesota. Alas, I haven’t returned to California since that time due to financial restrictions and my niece has moved. I tucked away all my Hawaii and Stennis memorabilia into a box and was able to retrieve it for this article.
My perspective on war is realistic. It usually occurs due to a failure of politicians and diplomats. The military must respond with violence, which is a waste of human effort. There are no winners, only one side who has lost less than the other. An aircraft carrier is an instrument of war. It serves no other purpose besides a rare humanitarian mission. The airplanes are beautiful. The afterburner of a jet is gorgeous, especially the EA-6B Prowler. Lop it off, tip the tail toward the sky, polish the surface, and it would be a nice addition to the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden.
Sailing on the aircraft carrier is definitely one of the most interesting experiences of my life. I would love to go on another cruise but no one in my family is in the Navy right now. As I have stated before, women need to be promoted to full combat duty in all branches of the military. All jobs must be opened, including cavalry, infantry, and special operations. That is the only way that females will reach parity in US society because so much of our civilian structure is based on the military. Period. End of discussion.
Part I was posted on May 24th and Part II posted on May 27th.
Aloha, I want to spend winters in Hawaii!
© 2012 Ima B. Musing