Wow! Pretty impressive air power demo….sure makes you appreciate what the pilots and support crew go through. I was still kind of in a daze as I don’t think it still hit me that it was real. I’ve been a fan of military aircraft my whole life and swear I was a fighter jock in another life, so I was living the dream of being that close to the planes as they launched.
Anyway, as I said in part 2, the Air Boss asked all to leave the flight deck so he could recover the aircraft and Eric and I headed off the flight deck. I was getting pretty used the “lost puppy” routine by now and dutifully followed Eric off the deck, down the stairs and back into the confusing world of hatches, corridors, stairs, etc.. I swear the ship is such a maze of passages that I’d get lost onboard with a roadmap and a GPS……and I’ve always had an awesome sense of direction. If I was in the hanger bay I was cool getting to the tire/wheel shop, my rack in berthing and the head! So that’s about 4 compartments….only 3200 more on the ship to learn.
Anyway, eventually we made our way to the shop, took off the parka (did I mention it was pretty nippy on the flight deck?) and kicked back for a minute.
I thought it was a good time to clean up a little as the morning had gone by in a blur so off to berthing for fresh laundry and shower…..some hot water felt pretty good even though you try to take the traditional Navy shower and try to conserve water. Coming from the Arizona desert I understand the water conservation idea anyway so it was no big deal for me….being able to generate about 400,000 – 500,000 gallons fresh water a day on the ship seems like a lot, but when you start to think about 4000-5000 people using that water each day and all the support areas as well, it doesn’t add up to much of the stuff for each individual per day. It did take some getting used to trying to shower in an area not much larger than the traditional phone booth…there is not much space to move around and luxuriate in for sure. And you note once again the grab bars in case the ship decides to roll about a little. The ship was still moving around a little, but I guess I was getting my sea legs and getting used to it now.
Feeling about a thousand percent better, we decided it was time to head for chow. There are two galleys on the ship so you get your choice of which lines you want to endure. If you tend to time chow to get into line a little on the early side the lines seems to move along….though I saw dinner lines from the galley, up a deck, though several hatches, into and across the hanger deck. I gather you get very used to waiting in line in the Navy….from boot camp chow line throughout your career on one of the most powerful warships ever built….go figure. Choices are several for grub and while not haute cuisine, the food will keep you going (heard several jokes about that anatomical process while on board……..) and generally it’s not too bad. I did have some noodle concoction for lunch though that day that I’m still not sure what it contained….but wasn’t bad with some A-1 on top. Seems that ketchup and A-1 are pretty popular on board…I can see why the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company picante sauce I kept on sending to Eric over cruise was so popular. So keep that in mind you parents out there….stuff to spice up bland food is a pretty popular item in care packages.
As I think I already wrote about, seating is catch as catch can so you have to look around for empty seats. There are a bunch of areas set up with tables and you get used to sitting next to what is an ordnance elevator. Funny how fast you adapt to these kinds of things and think…okay…whatever. When done, you police the area, scrape you plates/trays into appropriate waste bins, glasses go into one area, silverware, plates/trays into another etc.. And for all you moms out there the Navy has hand sanitizer dispensers located in key areas where the line forms. And most everyone uses it….contrary to what you see in the civilian word.
After chow we kind of walked around the hanger deck…into some shops and out. The area was a real beehive of activity. The air squadrons would be disembarking in Norfolk to move on to their next commands so EVERYTHING associated with their squad gets packed into large, pallet mounted boxes. Man, there were people and hand trucks and forklifts running around all over the place, which continued well into that night. In the space of a few hours the hanger deck was transformed from a work area into what looked like a distribution dock for a large trucking or shipping firm. You expect to see stuff like office chairs and the like, but you realize that over there is a stack of bomb racks, over there were some dummy 500 pound bombs, etc..
In the main parts of the hanger, the crew had setup a display of fire fighting tools and gear along with some damage control gear. I’m not sure how many civilians were aware that all Navy personnel are trained as fire fighters. After several terrible accidents over the years (for instance the USS Forrestal and the USS Enterprise) the Navy realized it needed to alter the approach they had to dealing with and fighting fires….now all are trained as first responders. It was a lot of the gear you typically may see in fire fighting company anywhere in the US, but they have an awful lot of specialized gear as well.
Eric’s damage control role is in shoring and they have a lot of specialized equipment for shoring bulkheads and frames in the ship. Of interest were some steel shores that can exert 12,000 to 20,000 pounds of force and that can be welded in place to affect a more robust shore that could last until the ship got to a shipyard. Add to that a lot of high capacity pumps and eductors to move seawater and you realize there is a lot of specialized equipment and training here. I would imagine ex-Navy would be in great demand as fire fighters in the civilian world due to their training. It was interesting to listen to Eric talk about methods for stopping leaks in lines…some high tech equipment that must date from a hundred years ago….wood wedges, jute-type rope, etc.. Guess what was effective then still applies today!
About that time Captain came over the intercom…they were going to have a “boot shoot” on the flight deck. Over the past hour or two all the aircraft had launched off the ship as they would fly into port that afternoon. It was surprising how fast you get used to the sound of the cats launching….about like background noise! The planes were in the air so no ear plugs needed…back to following Eric up to the flight deck again. Stepping onto the deck this afternoon was strange…empty deck with no aircraft to be seen- just a helicopter or two left.
The crowd was gathered around one of the bow catapults for a Navy tradition….when a “Shooter” leaves the ship, it is tradition for him to launch his boots off the ship with a catapult. I’ve seen it done on TV and on DVDs, but never thought I’d see it in person. Kind of odd to be on a multi-billion dollar vessel that typically is the home for 50-70 of the world’s best fighter and support aircraft and we are gathered around the cat to watch a pair of work boots take their ride into the Atlantic! Before the “shot”, the squadrons flew over the ship one more time in echelon formation as a salute to the ship and crew of the Roosevelt. They would be landing in Virginia a little in the day so this was a “goodbye and farewell”. It was a fitting way to bid farewell to the planes which once again inspired a great sense of pride in all that saw it. Some of America’s best were heading home and would be soon landing back on US soil for the first time in many months.
There was lots of good natured banter between the yellow shirts and officers on the deck…..soon the shuttle makes it way back to the launch position, the boots are carefully aligned, control surfaces checked….wait a minute – there are NO surfaces to check, tension is taken up on the shuttle….strange no afterburner sound or other engine sounds…the shooter touches the deck and extends his arm towards the bow and the boots are gone to great applause and laugher from all.
It was a neat thing to see and certainly mirrored the mood of the ship….we’re homeward bound! It kind of marked the transition from aircraft carrier to Navy ship heading home!
Having the deck clear made for a great opportunity to walk to the aft of the flight deck.
I stopped at the arresting wires and took a couple of photos…I made sure my shoe was in one to give some scale so you can see the diameter of the wires. When you see the planes land and the wires whip around and coil you get in impression they are pretty flexible but when you see that they are about 2” in diameter, you realize the amazing forces that are in play when you bring a 25,000 pound airplane moving about 135 knots to stop in about a hundred or so feet. Another photo to show the metal spacer that holds the wire off the surface of the deck at the correct height for the hook to snag on landing.
It’s a reminder that everything on this vessel is pretty stout and built to handle high loads in high stress environments. A lot like the folks that man these great vessels.
The mood of the carrier had changed. The thought on everyone’s mind was that tomorrow morning we’ll all be home. I’m not sure that any of us that haven’t been through a 7 month deployment half way around the globe can ever understand….those things that we take for granted everyday had been in very short supply for the crew of the Roosevelt and while there sure were a lot of hints of life home, I think all would agree that much can be said for being back in the United States. That would happen in a few short hours and all were feeling that buzz. So after the boot shot we just kind of “hung” in the shop…it was kinda nice to just kick back and tell some stories and share. Eric went out and got a couple of Cokes….now I want to be politically correct here, and I do not wish to offend anyone so I’ll just talk about the soda and not the nickname for Middle Eastern products. He handed me the can and said “bet you’ve never had one of these before” as I see it is a can of traditional Coke, but labeled in Arabic.
And with the old fashioned pull-tab which has been gone in the US for what…20 years? It tasted like “our” Coke, but with a little more acid or citrus bite…it was pretty tasty! In talking to the shop folks, they were all raving about some of the products from the Middle east….the most amazing was….Sprite! Everyone said how great the stuff was as you could really taste the lime and it sold out of the machines very rapidly. An interesting break for sure.
Soon enough it was time to start thinking about dinner and some more chow…I had heard a rumor about surf and turf and after getting a little cleaned up, back in line for chow. There was also an ice cream social with music planned…that would be interesting. The lines didn’t seem too terribly long, but like before we snaked around this passageway and that, though this hatch and that one and into the galley. And sure enough, there was some sort of steak/meat product and small lobster tails….and I have to say the meal was pretty darn tasty! The meat was pretty tender and had some flavor and the lobster was good as well. No A-1 needed that night! Now as far as the ice cream social…..a big table was set up with all kinds of large containers of a name brand ice cream along with all kind of sauces and goodies. It looked pretty tasty, but when it came to the tunes…well…I like a wide diversity in music, but with the Chicken Soup song blasting at 800 decibels it was a little much for the two of us. I guess a lot of the crew liked it though as the lines were pretty horrendous for the frozen stuff. We finished our meal, disposed of the plates and all and retired to quieter areas. Eric decided to head out for a cancer stick….yeah he smokes…we won’t discuss that. But the sunset was amazing with vivid colors. I was surprised at the speed at which the sun set. I know it was the same as I see all the time, but it seemed so much faster…I guess because of the clear demarcation between sea and sky and no vegetation to blur the horizon. About that time it hit me…no dust or pollen as I could breathe without suffering the allergies that plague me in Arizona this time of the year when all the mesquite and other desert vegetation starts to bloom. It was pretty glorious to inhale air!
We didn’t do much for the rest of the evening….the hanger bay was getting pretty crammed with boxes and crates as the squadrons were packing up everything for their next duty station.
We headed back to berthing and to a lounge area…nothing really good on the tube and it was pretty darn busy where we were. Lots of sailors getting their whites pressed to be ready for the morning as they would be manning the rails when we came into Norfolk. We headed out and back to another lounge area…no TV on here so Eric went to the berthing office to try to find a remote….no joy with the remote so we just sat and talked for quite a while. It was nice just to talk for awhile about things and for me to hear about some of the stories the boy had from cruise. In particular he talked a lot about the visit to South Africa and how impressed he was with Cape Town. He made me promise to put that on my list of places to see before I die. He also told me about the cigars he bought there and told me had two from a land a little south of the US that are considered to be the best in the world and that we would smoke them when we got back to the United States….now I don’t smoke, but figured I would share one with the boy even though they were illegal in the states.
It was real nice break from the hectic pace just to sit quietly and talk…..about the cruise, cars, motorcycles, guns….all the good male bonding stuff! Soon enough It was time to start to think about an early night. We knew it would be a hectic day tomorrow, what with packing up and coming into port and all so off to clean up a little and into the rack. It was a lot earlier than the night before for sure, and while we were still moving around, the movement had settled down a lot. Let’s hope this night brought a little more sleep then the prior one, though I was still so wound up that I knew I would be restless and probably couldn’t sleep much. I figured I would have lots of time to sleep when I got back to Tucson! So back down onto the bottom rack, wiggle in, get situated and try to get some sleep.