The Ultimate Team Sport – A Tribute To The Men And Women Of The U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)
Extraordinary Competence and Devotion to Country
Extraordinary. That is the only word that comes to mind after spending 26 hours aboard the U.S.S. Roosevelt (CVN-71), one of our Nation‘ s nuclear powered aircraft carriers. The high standards set by the United States Navy, its commanding officers, and all enlisted personnel aboard the aircraft carrier were apparent during the course of my tour of the Roosevelt. Named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, the ship’s company subscribes to President Roosevelt’s adage, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” Without question, the Roosevelt, its men and women, and the complement of aircraft aboard the ship are America’s “Big Stick” in the Pacific Ocean. As is true in the civilian sector, excellence starts at the top. And in Admiral Bynum and Captain Clapperton, one finds character traits of excellence, leadership, intelligence and devotion to country that are the driving forces that ensure the high morale and excellent performance of every person serving aboard CVN-71.
Who Are the Men and Women Who Serve Our Country?
During my 26 hours aboard the Roosevelt, and after clambering up and down numerous ladders, and making my way through numerous bulkheads, and listening to the roar of jet aircraft being catapulted from and landing aboard the carrier, it was clear to me that an aircraft carrier features few creature comforts. The living conditions are spartan. The ship is very noisy during flight operations. Enlisted personnel live in a common living area while officers are housed only two decks below the flight deck. It is not an exaggeration to conclude that life aboard the Roosevelt presents hazards and demands of its enlisted personnel and officers that simply cannot be compared to work in the civilian sector. The bottom line, when life aboard the Roosevelt is viewed from a civilian’s perspective, service aboard the aircraft carrier would be viewed as a hardship. Despite this fact, every man and woman I encountered during my visit aboard the Roosevelt was enthusiastic, respectful and polite and exhibited esprit de corps in serving aboard this extraordinary fighting ship.
I had breakfast with a young lady from Arizona who works as a helicopter avionics technician. She was bright, enthusiastic, and focused on her work. She desires to attend nursing school and eventually become a physician’s assistant. Service in the United States Navy provides young men and women with a focus requiring that they perform their jobs with excellence, and these traits acquired and developed in the service of their country will serve them for the remainder of their lives in either civilian or military endeavors. I also spent time with a young man from New York City who served aboard the bridge of the ship in the area where navigation was conducted. He had a fistful of 4 x 6 flash cards he had employed recently to pass a practical test. He advised me that having competencies in multiple disciplines made it more likely he would achieve promotion in the ranks. He indicated that after service in the Navy, he was interested in becoming a commercial airline pilot.
As a civilian, I expect excellence and extraordinary focus from the men and women who have attended the Naval Academy. The surprise for me was the level of excellence and commitment among the enlisted personnel. One can only attribute this extraordinary focus and commitment to the ethos of the United States Navy and to the skipper of the ship, Captain Clapperton.
The Ultimate Team Sport
As guests aboard CVN-71, we civilians were afforded two encounters with Captain Clapperton and Admiral Bynum. As they addressed the threats posed to our country by adversaries who would do us harm and the ability of the United States Navy to respond to those threats, Captain Clapperton’s words still echo in my mind: “Serving aboard the Roosevelt is the ultimate team sport.” Both Captain Clapperton and Admiral Bynum repeatedly emphasized the extraordinary devotion to duty exhibited by Navy enlisted personnel. One can understand a naval aviator having a high level of enthusiasm after receiving flight training at the expense of the U.S. Government that may cost in the range of One Million Dollars per pilot. However, young men or women hanging bombs on a jet fighter or performing maintenance on a jet aircraft overnight so the aircraft can fly the next morning still exhibit extraordinary enthusiasm for their service to our country, despite the challenging conditions of their work. And that was one thing I found extraordinary about the visit. The level of enthusiasm, commitment and personal satisfaction exhibited by all ranks of the men and women serving aboard the Roosevelt were truly an inspiration.
The Challenges of Life Aboard an Aircraft Carrier
The Roosevelt is about 1,000 feet long and displaces about 100,000 tons. It is a floating city with four catapults that can take a 66,000 pound aircraft and, using steam power, propel this aircraft down the flight deck to a speed of 120 miles an hour in two seconds. The shuttle that connects to the aircraft landing gear to provide this force abruptly comes to a stop at the end of the flight deck with a bang. The jet engines are at full military power upon takeoff, and the jet engines thunder reverberates throughout the ship. Whether you are serving aboard the flight deck or the hangar deck, the noise of aircraft carrier operations is pronounced. Similarly, when the aircraft lands, it slams aboard the deck, the engine once again at full military power to ensure the aircraft can return to flight in the event the tail hook fails to catch an arresting wire. I am told that the ship’s company becomes adjusted to the noise, even for those men and women who work throughout the night and sleep during the day.
During our tour, although taps sounded at 10:00 p.m., flight operations did not conclude until about midnight, and of course, reveille sounded at 6:00 a.m. the next morning.
Not only are the men and women of our United States Navy living and working in challenging circumstances, but the duty day for many personnel can run 15 or 16 hours. If air operations are underway on the ship, then the air boss and his staff will be at their duty stations giving directions on the launching and recovery of aircraft all day and into the late night. Operating an aircraft carrier is a 24 hour day, seven day a week job.
Avenues for Recreation, Exercise and Spiritual Reflection
For the sailors and marines aboard the Roosevelt there are amenities and activities that provide respite from work aboard the ship. There are five gyms, movies, a chapel (and chaplains of various faiths and denominations), a library and internet access to communicate with friends and
family back home. One ingredient in maintaining high morale is the Media Department. The Media Department produces videos about life aboard the ship that can have humorous moments. The department also publishes magazines and written content for the ship’s company. In addition to the spiritual counseling, psychological counseling and support available, the ship is staffed with a team of physicians, dentists, healthcare providers, and even a Recreational Director. Clearly, the Navy understands the importance of attending to the emotional and spiritual needs of the men and women serving aboard the ship.
But How Was the Chow?
There was no shortage of food aboard the Roosevelt. Four meals are served per day to ensure the nutritional needs of the crew are satisfied. In fact, Captain Clapperton noted the importance of good food aboard ship indicating he could shut down one nuclear reactor and the ship would still function. However, if the mess halls quit functioning, that would be another matter.
Give Thanks to the United States Navy
The primary take away I have after spending 26 hours aboard the Roosevelt is that the men and women serving our country are extraordinary. They are extremely focused and devoted to their work. They are led by officers and petty officers who are committed to their mission of protecting and serving our country but also focused on ensuring that all men and women serving aboard the ship are cared for and feel mutual support as they carry out their daily duties.
So, the next time you see a sailor, recognize that that man or woman is engaged in providing service to our country of an extraordinary nature. He or she is working under conditions that are arduous, challenging, and lack the creature comforts of a civilian lifestyle. He or she is in harm’s way. He or she works up to 15 or 16 hours a day. These people are extraordinary, and we should all recognize the sacrifices they have made to protect and serve our country.