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Quit blaming the Chinese for wrecking jobs.


Circle A: New International Symbol for Severe Mental Retardation

Miscreants desiring cradle-to-grave government and subsidized . . . everything are increasingly turning to the anarchy symbol as their emblem of choice.  Anarchy =  NO government = Are these people drinking kerosene?


“One thing you can do for your country is to reserve a spacious portion of your own life for which you–not your country–are responsible.”
–George F. Will



On Scaling Back the State - a Sober Look


City of Steel

The following ran in BrainstormNW around spring of 2006, and is a photo essay I put together following a unique opportunity I had to spend a couple of days aboard the nuclear carrier USS Nimitz.  It has been retouched some for the blog.


            I spent December 15 and 16, 2005 aboard the nuclear carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) as it performed maneuvers and flight ops off the coast of Mexico.  This unforgettable opportunity came about as the result of a fortuitous friendship with one Ernest King, an unbelievably well-connected retired defense contractor.  Ernie knows damned near every admiral in the Pacific Fleet, and has put together several of these carrier tours for local educators and others involved with the Maj. Gen. Marion Carl Foundation.  I’m the Foundation’s attorney and a member of its board.  Ernie started the Foundation to do good works in the area of education in honor of its namesake, General Carl, who was and is the most famous and decorated aviator in Marine Corps history.  The general was a native Oregonian.  He retired to the Roseburg area several years ago, where he befriended Ernie after the two of them became neighbors.  He was killed in 1998 during a home invasion robbery by a local lowlife, now very appropriately sitting on death row for the atrocity. 

            We were flown to San Diego by my good friend Bruce Klein in his King Air E90 on December 14.  The Roseburg delegation consisted of myself, Ted Wilton, who teaches special needs kids at Roseburg High School, Dennis Acton, an assistant principal at both Joseph Lane and Fremont Middle Schools (and my former grade school principal), John Reynolds, a counselor at Sutherlin Middle School, Marty Garry, the principal of Sutherlin Middle School, and Larry Rich, assistant principal of Roseburg High School (also the mayor of Roseburg).

            We arrived the following morning at North Island Naval Air Station, located on Coronado Island.  There we were met by Senior Chief Donna Corvin, the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) for the base, and the other 11 civilians who were to join us on the embark.  We 17 were referred to by Navy personnel throughout our tour as Distinguished Visitors, or “DVs.”  I should think they’ll need to change that nomenclature now that I’ve been on an embark, unless they mean it in the same vein as “Your husband/son/friend really distinguished himself at the Yule Ball last night.”

            Senior Chief Corvin took us around the base and gave some of the storied history of North Island NAS.  We were then given an excellent Power Point presentation detailing what we should expect to see and do once aboard the carrier.

           The next step was to board the “Greyhound,” or COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery), a large, twin-engine turboprop that is the “do everything” plane linking the carrier to the shore.  It’s used to ferry personnel, food, spare parts and mail to and from the ship.


In perhaps my most successful attempt ever to look like a first-rate dork, I’ve donned the “cranial” (militarese for “helmet”), which includes the much-needed ear protection, and the hopefully unneeded inflatable life vest required before boarding the COD.



Ted Wilton, jazzed to be getting on the COD.



A row of F-18s being boarded by their pilots at North Island NAS.  These planes would be on the ship by the time we arrived.


            We received our safety briefing, including ominous instructions for getting the hell out of the COD should it splash down in the Pacific.  Then we were boarded through the large cargo door in the rear of the COD’s fuselage and strapped with four-point harnesses into the backward-facing seats.  The interior of the plane was spare.  There were no windows, and it smelled of jet fuel (think kerosene, or the stuff you use to light charcoal).  It was also quite dark.  Sound insulation was at a minimum, so it was very loud.  As we taxied, took off and got underway, there was nothing but a vague sense of movement, and total uncertainty as to direction or whether we were even airborne.  A member of the COD crew began waving his arms around 40 minutes later—the pre-announced signal that we were about to touch down on the deck of Nimitz.  This would involve a cable-arrested landing, or “trap,” which would bring the COD from its glide approach speed to a dead stop in around 200 feet.  As we were facing backward, the force of this abrupt stop simply pushed us back into our seats.  Quite a rush—perhaps 2 or 3 Gs—but I would learn the next day that this was nothing compared to the catapult shot that would get us off the carrier.

            We disembarked from the COD and were quickly ushered past a bemused collection of deck crewmen into the “island,” which is the tall structure containing the air traffic control tower and the bridge common to all aircraft carriers on the starboard side.  The roar of jets and the hot wind caused by their blasts definitely got my heart pumping as I made my way from the COD to the island.  Once inside, we were led to a large conference room that’s part of the captain’s quarters, where we were greeted and briefed by the ship’s officer staff.


Ted Wilton and I flank Capt. Ted Branch in this group shot.  The big guy to my right is John Reynolds, a counselor at Sutherlin Middle School.


            Both the CO and the XO were small in stature, but clearly commanded unfettered respect from all of the officers in the room.  I probably noticed their small size because of my preconceived notion that high-ranking naval officers should all be at least 8 feet tall.  But for carrier officers, it stands to reason that they would be smaller guys, as all carrier COs are required by law to be naval aviators, and most fighter pilots aren’t very big.  In reading their bios, I learned that both the captain and the XO had impeccable fighter jock pedigrees.  These were two highly impressive individuals! 

            We next ascended several of the ubiquitous ladders that I would soon learn were necessary to get just about anywhere on the ship (described by Captain Branch as “the world’s largest and most expensive Stairmaster”), and entered a small room with windows on three sides where the ship’s air traffic controllers operate.  Viewed from the forward section of the ship, this room is the windowed area at the top of the island.  From this excellent vantage, we watched F-18 Hornets, Super Hornets and EA-6B Prowlers practicing traps, cat shots and “touch-and-go” landings. 


Here the same COD that had recently dropped us off on the carrier prepares for its cat shot to head back to North Island.  This picture was snapped from the control tower.


Two F-18s hook up to the steam catapult and prepare to launch.  The jetway off to the left, which angles away from the direction of the bow, is where incoming airplanes land.  Hence planes can be taking off and landing at the same time on the 4.5-acre deck.  During combat operations, the intrepid deck crew can get a plane launched approximately every 30 seconds.

Just as one Hornet is off, another one is positioned for a cat shot.  This deck crew gets right with it!  A 4.5-acre flight deck sounds big, but not when you’re moving a lot of airplanes around.  It’s very tight, and the deck crew has to know just what the hell it’s doing.  It’s all a well-choreographed dance.

            The Super Hornets are an upgrade from the original F-18s, and differ in a few important respects from their predecessors (although both serve concurrently).  They have a longer fuselage, more powerful engines, and are more amenable to different attack/intercept/electronic warfare configurations.  They’re also one-seaters, whereas the standard Hornet is a two-seater (pilot and navigator/weapons officer).  The Prowler is an electronic warfare aircraft, which carries a crew of four.  These fly into an area along with an attacking fighter squadron and jam enemy air defenses so that they cannot effectively fire on our fighters.  My friend Jim Feldkamp, the erstwhile FBI Special Agent, candidate for Congress and now Navy intelligence officer, served as a navigator on one of these.  They’re in the process of being phased out, to be replaced with a specially configured version of the Hornet which will fill the same electronic warfare role.  The F-14 Tomcats, which many will remember from the movie Top Gun, are also being scrapped—much to the dismay of many veteran pilots.  The Navy has decided to radically simplify its supply chain by switching to one airframe—the Super Hornet—to wear all of the different hats that three planes once did.  So in the near future, Super Hornets will be configured for intercept, attack (meaning firing on ground-based targets) and electronic warfare roles.

            The next stop on the tour was down into the hangar bay, where we got to observe the many talented young men and women keeping these aircraft up to performance standards.


This young lieutenant is in charge of aircraft maintenance.  He took us around the hangar bay and engine shop, answering all of our questions.  This baby is huge!

Following an overhaul, this engine is affixed to a special trailer, which is used to wheel it through the door in the background.  There the trailer will be secured to the deck, and the engine will be hooked up to a fuel source and various computer sensors.  It will be fired and run while diagnostics are being performed in order to make sure it’s in proper working order before putting it back in the plane.  Each of the two engines in an F-18 can produce 28,000 pounds of thrust.



An SH-60F/H Seahawk helicopter viewed through one of the starboard-side elevator doors in the hangar bay.  One of these is airborne at all times during flight operations, in case the worst happens and a pilot needs to be fished out of the drink.  Three more of these are folded up on deck, and can be ready to deploy in about 30 minutes.  This is the Navy’s version of the Army Blackhawk, and has replaced the venerable “Huey” as the Navy’s go anywhere, do anything helicopter.


Yes, those are people in their late teens and early twenties.  And yes, they are expertly removing an engine from an F-18 for servicing.  Most of the crew of this ship was made up of young people, but I can hardly call them “kids.”  These people really know their stuff!


            After being treated to a tour of the officers', or "wardroom" mess where we'd be dining that night with some of the Officer Staff, we finally we came to what was by far the most thrilling part of the embark.  They were actually crazy enough to take us out on the flight deck during ops.  We were asked to wear both foam ear plugs and the ear muffs integrated into our cranials.  Once we got out onto the deck, it was easy to see why.  The noise out there is not so much a sound as a force.  It quickly penetrates all of your soft tissue and quite literally rattles your bones.  I honestly felt both of my femurs vibrating.  My teeth chattered if I didn’t hold my jaw firmly shut.  Dadgum that’s loud!  I also figured out why they make us wear the headgear.  We had to crouch to walk behind a jet that had its engines running, and one unfortunate soul in front of me didn’t notice that the folks in front of him had ducked.  He caught a jet blast directly to the side of his head, which just about polaxed him.  Had his ear and the side of his head not been covered, he’d likely be more than a bit crispy.


Here we are right in the thick of the action.  The guys in the yellow shirts who kept us from straying into areas where we didn’t belong are known as “Shooters,” and are members of the deck crew responsible for operating both the catapults and arresting wires (note the crossed revolvers on the back of the vest). 


            I was also wearing one of those white “Public Affairs” vests you see pictured, clearly identifying me as a civilian puke who had no business on the flight deck.  Well, there’s also the extra 30 pounds I pack around with me.  Officers and enlisted crew on the Nimitz were trim and square-jawed to a man/woman.  I would imagine this has a lot to do with the 27,436 ladders they have to go up and down every day to get everywhere.  U.S. carriers have no, I repeat, NO elevators.  Of course, the fitness of the deck crew could probably be attributed to the fact that they sometimes work 12-hour shifts out there, and they spend most of that time running from place to place.  These folks are professional warriors, and real go-getters.


An EA-6B Prowler maneuvers into position for a cat shot as the steam clears from preceding shot.


This Hornet is coming in for a “touch-and-go” landing, as evidenced by the retracted tailhook.  He’s not trying to catch the wire, but instead wants to touch down on the deck, go to full power and take off again without stopping.  This maneuver is practiced to prepare a pilot to get off the deck in a hurry if he/she’s not able to catch an arresting wire.


Here comes a Hornet with tailhook down, ready to trap.  They come in just above stall speed, then power up to full throttle as soon as they hit the deck.  This way, if they miss the cable, they can get back off the deck without going into the drink.  I asked an officer what happens if a plane goes over the bow of the ship.  Long story short--you get run over.  It takes about 2 miles to stop this puppy at full reverse.


There are getting to be increasing numbers of female pilots in the Navy, and everyone agrees that they’re damned good.  A premium is placed on colorful call signs like this one . . .


and this one.


             After some truly unbelievable time on the flight deck, we went up to the bridge.  The captain was there, along with a number of senior and junior officers and some enlisted helmsmen, except they were “helmswomen.”  The captain’s call sign when he’s flying is “Twig,” a play on his surname, Branch.  He told me the story of his christening.  When his senior officer told him he’d be getting the call sign Twig, he protested because that had been his dad’s call sign when he was a Navy pilot.  He was then told that it could either be Twig, or it could be “Shithead.”  Frankly, I’d have picked the latter.



This is the Bridge.  No, your eyes don’t deceive you.  This 20-year-old is driving an 1100-foot-long, 95,000-ton nuclear aircraft carrier.  No pressure! 

            Next we checked into our state rooms.  These are basically mid-grade officers’ quarters, two bunks to a room.  I bunked with Dennis Acton, my old grade school principal.  So I was on my best behavior.  Of course, I would have been anyway, since Navy vessels are dry.  No booze.  It so happens that the Royal Navy is still wet.  Had I been a Navy man, I probably would have taken a serious look at the Officer Exchange Program at the first opportunity on account of this.

            Around 7:30, we headed for the officers’ mess for dinner with the XO, the admiral’s Chief of Staff, and several other officers.  The captain had to stay up on the bridge, as they were still conducting flight ops.  The admiral wasn’t aboard ship at that time.  I sat between General Schneider, USAF (retired) and Lt. Cdr. Fagan, the ship’s Public Affairs Officer.  The latter is about my age, and is a 14-year veteran.  The conversation was great, and damn, those officers eat well! 

            Then it was off to “Vulture’s Row,” an outdoor patio of sorts off the bridge, where we watched night  traps and cat shots.  This was so exciting I could have stayed out there all night.  You couldn’t see whether or not each incoming plane caught his wire, and the only way to tell was to wait and see whether or not he came to an abrupt stop.  When they would stop on full burner at night, the purple flame shooting several feet out of the engines was a sight to behold.  We couldn’t take any pictures, however, as flash photography would obviously have been very distracting to the pilots.

            Next stop was a ready room, where pilots gather to discuss exercises and operations, both before and after.  Here we were briefed by a Seahawk pilot and a few crewmen, who told us about the many different combat and search-and-rescue roles for which that helicopter is used.  Apparently we were immediately underneath the spot on the flight deck where the jets touch down when they trap, as a loud crash would rattle the room every minute or so.  It was uncomfortably loud, but I felt better when I noticed that even the veteran air crewmen in the room would jolt each time a plane hit the roof.  This noise didn’t really abate as we retired to our state rooms for the night.  Even though I’m fairly certain we were several floors below the flight deck—it being difficult to tell where you are much of the time inside that windowless, labyrinthine behemoth—the loud bangs sounded like someone was firing a cannon in our room.  Nimitz is all steel, and sound really has a tendency to reverberate through her.  We also heard a loud whine/roar every time an arresting cable would be retracted.  Flight ops continued until around 2:30 a.m., and sleep was challenging until then.

            We got a real treat the next morning after a stout breakfast.  Flight ops had temporarily ceased, so we were allowed to go out on the flight deck and really get a good look around.  Here are some of the highlights:


The island, viewed head-on looking down the track of the starboard steam catapult.  The ship is making about 30 knots all the time, but she’s so massive that you rarely feel movement.


This is the forward “bubble,” sunk into the deck in the extremely hazardous area between the two forward steam catapults.  There is a third catapult further aft on the port side.  This is where specialists control the amount of steam pressure going to the catapult based on the type and weight of aircraft being launched.  Too much pressure can rip the front wheel off.  Too little, and the plane goes in the soup and gets run over by the ship.  Kind of important, I should think.


Here the deck crew has lined up on the bow, and is preparing to do a “FOD walk.”  They’ll be walking the length of the deck, carefully scanning the ground.  FOD stands for Foreign Object Damage, and is a really big deal on a carrier.  You see signs everywhere reminding people to watch for FOD.  At first I thought it might be a social disease.  Powerful as these aircraft are, they can be crippled by sucking even a relatively small foreign object through their turbines.


This is a RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) battery.  These and several M2 .50 caliber mounts are strategically placed around the ship, and are a “last line” defense against incoming aircraft and/or missiles.  If the system works as it’s supposed to, none of these threats should ever get close enough to a carrier to make these missiles and guns necessary.   They’re here in case everything else breaks down.  The RAM is replacing the “Sea Wiz” system, much to my disappointment.  Sea Wiz was a fully automated, motor-driven gatling gun that basically would fill the sky with enough steel that no missile could fly through it.  I really wanted to see one.  I wonder if any are for sale . . ..


Looking off the stern, or “fan tail” of Nimitz.  She has four propellers, each of them around 32 feet from blade tip to blade tip.  These push the 95,000 ton ship along at well over 30 knots (around 35 mph or better).  In doing so, she churns up a roiling river behind her for close to a mile.


            Next we went to the ordnance magazine, where all of the bomb parts, high explosives and ammunition for the ship are stored and assembled.  This is a large, cavernous facility which, for obvious reasons, is deep in the belly of the carrier.


Some bomb tails stored in the ordnance magazine.  Note how everything is kept chained down.  Even ships this size can pitch and roll considerably in big enough seas.


These crates contain bomb fuses, and have a very helpful warning printed on them.


            We passed through the enlisted mess on our way to the flight ops room, which was so poorly lit none of my pictures turned out worth a hoot.  There we received our final farewell from the captain before forlornly boarding the COD for the trip back to North Island.

            The cat shot on the COD will forever be burned into my memory.  You have to get from zero to around 130 knots in about 150’ in order to get airborne.  Again, we’re facing backward, but this time you’re being forced against your 4-point harness.  Someone asked an officer how many Gs we’d be pulling, and he guessed about 2 (meaning if you weigh 200 pounds, you’re pushing against your harness with 400 pounds of force).  All I can say is that if this is what 2 Gs feels like, I have no idea how trained pilots can withstand up to 6 Gs without blacking out.  During those 2 or so seconds of indescribable acceleration, I felt like the entire mass of my brain had been crammed into the first inch of my forehead.  I was also quite certain my eyeballs would pop out of my skull.  Hot damn!


The COD back at North Island, as we disembark through the cargo door.


            Concluding Thoughts:  It seems to be in vogue lately to gush about our military.  I find myself questioning the motives some have for doing so.  Nevertheless, based on what I’ve observed firsthand both on this wonderful excursion and on my trip to Fallon NAS (Top Gun) in Nevada the previous month, any and all accolades we can heap upon these wonderful young Americans is more than warranted.  They’re simply outstanding.  Their work ethic, sense of mission, and camaraderie just make me damned glad they’re on our side.  I really can’t imagine how any enemy in the world could stand up to these folks, particularly if we stand behind them the way we always should.

            The other thing one notices immediately is that they’re young.  As I look at all of these people we have drifting about in our little towns who are either still in or just out of high school, it’s comforting to know what they’re capable of with the right training and discipline.  Trouble is, many of these young people don’t have a clue what they could do if pushed hard enough by themselves and others.  We need to lean on these kids, lovingly but firmly.  I’ve seen what they can do, and it’s a damned sight more than playing an X-Box.  Barely into their second decade of life, these men and women are more “professional” than most professionals I know.  They were polite, respectful and accommodating at all times, even though I’m sure we were in their way more often than not.  You’d be happy to have any of them for an employee or coworker.  And they get paid next to squat.

            Finally, I was heartened to see the diversity on board the ship.  No, I’m not talking about the sort of ersatz diversity being shoved down our throats on PC college campuses, where everyone is clamoring for victim status and demanding unearned respect.  I’m talking about what I saw on Nimitz—a cross section of America, where people of every hue and background are working together.  This ship literally is America.  When she’s fully crewed and has a full air wing aboard, Nimitz carries some 5500 souls.  She’s a floating city.  And it’s a distinctly American city.  You could really see it in both the officers’ and enlisted mess halls.  These places were neither cliquish nor segregated.  People of all races ate together.  They cracked jokes and “high-fived” one another.  It was clear that friendships among this crew ran deep, and were created by working together in close quarters during months-long deployments.  This ship showed me what America can be, if we have the will to get it together.  There’s good reason to hope for good things.