Aboard the USS John F. Kennedy

May 23, 2005

I took the first shuttle flight out of New York to Boston at 6 am and met up with my producer and crew as they were carrying gear from the dock up the "brow" to the hangar bay of the USS John F Kennedy, an all-purpose multi-mission aircraft carrier that's about as long as the Empire State Building is tall, or four city blocks.

"Big John" is the second-oldest carrier in the Navy's fleet, and could be decommissioned early next year, although there are competing plans to overhaul the vessel and deploy it for another decade or so.

We're tagging along with the ship’s 3,000-plus sailors and Marines as they travel the Atlantic from Beantown to the Big Apple to take part in Fleet Week. We're already under way and should arrive in New York Harbor late Wednesday morning.

The plan is to do live shots from the ship as we make our way south, using a satellite phone with a gyroscope-equipped vehicular M-4 antenna. The picture won't be perfect, but we should be able to transmit even as we're moving 50-100 miles offshore, even in bad weather.

The skies are dark and threatening, and we've already been warned to expect rough seas tonight.

So far the biggest challenge was getting the gear from the hangar bay to our "ready room" three flights up. We have 24 cases of equipment, not including our personal bags. There was no elevator at our disposal, so we carried the stuff up the steep ladder wells and through the tight passageways and porthole-like doorways called “scuttles.” The sailors call scuttles "knee knockers," because it's easy to bang your leg on the metal frame as you step through.

While the cases were heavy, and some bulky, they all fit through the tight spots and into our ready room. All except one. The box holding the M-4 antenna is big and square and, as it turns out, a fraction too wide to make it past the hatches. One of our helpful Navy Public Affairs Officers actually had to take the hinges off two doors to get the case into our workspace. The hinges are going to have to come off again Wednesday too, when we get to NYC.

Most of the men and women aboard have been in Iraq or supported missions there. The ship just got back last December from a seven-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. The sailors and Marines are enjoying their well-deserved R&R — some calling the past four days in Boston the best port visit they ever had. I'm hoping New York can top Boston. If you watched the American League Championship Series last fall, you know we've got a score to settle anyway.

E-mail Rick!

[Ed. note: Click the video tab in the upper right to watch Leventhal's reports.]

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Dear Rick,

Thank you very much for all the interest that you and FOX are putting in our sailors. My son Edison B Jaya is one of the sailors aboard the USS Kennedy. I’m sending him and all the other sailors a lot of hugs and kisses. We are so PROUD OF YOU GUYS. ENJOY YOUR FLEET WEEK, HAVE FUN.

— Elena

Having served on Big John for four years (79-83) and having done 2 med cruises and an IO cruise (Indian Ocean), nothing ever beat Boston. NYC has a tough act to follow, I just don't see it happening.

Good luck

G-5 Flight Deck Ordnance (formally)


I first want to let you know how much I love and respect your work - I've followed you since the war started. You see my Army son J.R. Rickard was w/the 3rd ID, Combat Engineers, when we invaded Baghdad, and was awarded the Bronze Star.

And now you are on board the JFK with my son petty officer John Ryan Rickard. Tell him "Hi" from mom, give him your autograph for me - please!

— Proud military mom and wife, Jan

Hi Rick,

Two of my daughters are serving together on the Kennedy. Thanks for writing the article and I hope to catch your reports on FOX! We all miss them and can't wait to see them in NYC.

A very proud Navy Mom!
— Jo-Ann (West Chester, PA)

BTW-Good Luck in the rough sea! Hold on tight!