The jarring tailhook landing on deck is only a hint at the power of the enormous aircraft carrier. Stepping out of C-2 Greyhound cargo plane, visitors are greeted by their first glance at the U.S. Navy’s second most powerful weapon. It’s the newest, biggest, baddest ship ever built – the USS George H.W. Bush.
The Bush, officially CVN-77, is the latest and last nuclear-powered, Nimitz-class carrier. Though the Nimitz class is being replaced, it has more than enough combat power to make lunatic leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il quake in their boots.
Everywhere you look on deck, there are signs of a ship ever ready and able to defend America. There are F/A-18F Super Hornets, anti-submarine helicopters, missiles, machineguns and more. These are the weapons of peace to friends and allies and weapons of war to those who hate us.
The technology is a marvel. The sheer power of one plane as it catapults off the ship can be felt throughout your body. But that power isn’t what makes the U.S. Navy the best in the world. It’s the men and women who defend their nation 24-7 and who operate that ship and those aircraft, who are their nation’s best naval weapon and first line of defense.
And their average age is 19 and a half.
From the youngest seaman to Rear Admiral Nora W. Tyson, the carrier strike group commander, these are just one great example of the warriors who protect America while we sleep. The Bush’s motto is “Freedom at Work.” It’s those warriors who make the planes fly and keep the ship at top performance.
This isn’t the 8-hour day of civilian life. The crew works constantly. Wearing the rainbow’s hues to designate job duties, men and women fuel planes (purple), handle weapons and ammo (red), direct the aircraft (yellow) and respond to emergencies (silver). No matter which task they are doing, they are hard at work and – something that might be surprising – they are often smiling.
They have a right to be. This city at sea of close to 5,000 combines modern technology with a throwback to the America that got us here. These aren’t coddled youths fresh out of the Ivy League. These are men and women who came to the Navy for opportunities that eluded them on shore.
Men and women who might sometimes be called boys and girls out of uniform, they are so young, handle million-dollar aircraft and help pilot a more than $6-billion ship. In between they load, stock and cook enough food for more than 18,000 meals every day. And, of course, operate two nuclear power plants that fuel the carrier.
They can do all that and more because they know the meaning of words today’s employers and parents seem reluctant to use – accountability, responsibility, teamwork and even esprit de corps. Examples of these words in action range from planes landed and cleared from busy runways in 45 seconds flat to the organized way planes are maintained and refueled.
On the carrier, everything can be a life-or-death issue. Even something mundane such as cleaning the deck of foreign object debris (FOD, in Navy parlance) takes on special import. Hundreds of men and women swarm the deck in what would be an exercise in chaos in the civilian world. Instead, they spread out in an orderly fashion searching for every screw, sunflower seed and piece of metal lodged where it could be sucked into an engine.
Each discovery is greeted with new smiles as the group walks fore to aft. Within minutes, the entire deck is cleared – safe for continued operation.
“I am proud of every man and woman on this ship,” said the ship’s namesake George H.W. Bush when he visited the ship while it was at sea. Who could blame him? The ship is a wonder, but it’s the humans on board that make it wonderful.
Just days after our visit, the Bush showed how rapidly it can respond to an emergency, helping rescue a seaman missing from the guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher. The sailor was brought back on board by one of the carrier’s helicopters. Admiral Tyson summed it up nicely. “This sailor is alive today because we train as we fight, and when the time came, we all knew what to do.”
Just another day in the life of the Bush, where we can be thankful they always know what to do. It probably won’t be long until the ship deploys into a combat area. When that happens, Americans will again place our lives in the capable hands of our most essential Navy weapons.
Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as @dangainor.