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Let me ‘splain…No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

I’m back in Colorado, after a week and a half of travel that proved to be everything that I needed. Here’s a brief breakdown.

My oldest sister is married to a young man who pre-enlisted in the Navy when he was 17. After years of hard work and progress through the ranks of the enlisted men, he decided that he wanted to fly jets. To that end, he enrolled in the Naval Officer Candidate School and eventually became an aviator with a prominent fighter squadron which has even been featured in a TV miniseries, “Carrier.” Back in December, I received a phone call from my father asking me if I would like the opportunity to spend a week aboard an aircraft carrier with him and my brother-in-law as he and his squadron returned from deployment overseas. They call it a Tiger Cruise.

Now I’m not the biggest geek when it comes to military stuff, but I’ve built my share of fighter jets and things out of LEGO, and I figured that aside from my tour of the USS Midway back in 2005, this would be the best chance I would ever have to see this sort of thing up close. I said yes, and I don’t regret it in the least. I didn’t want to say too much about the trip beforehand, for security purposes and whatnot, but now that I’m home, I can tell you a little more about my experience.

Dad and I flew to Honolulu on the 19th of February, and I got to see my brother-in-law at work for the first time. After spending the afternoon of Presidents’ Day wandering the Pearl Harbor memorials with him and my father, we boarded the USS John C. Stennis.

I can hear Lonely Island and T. Pain warming up in the background...

The following week’s journey across the ocean to San Diego consisted of tours of the ship, incredible demonstrations of the power of the aircraft on board and the supporting ships that sailed with us, and meeting the amazing people who make this all possible. I got to see the ship’s jet engine shop, eat an otter pop that was frozen in liquid oxygen (SCIENCE!), see a close-up of the cockpit of an F-18, and even wander around the onboard library. That’s right. I got to hang out in a library that was floating across the Pacific Ocean. Beat that.

Okay, maybe not a very BIG library, but still...

During the trip, my father and I (along with two fellow Tigers) were quartered in my brother-in-law’s eight-man stateroom. As our sponsor was an officer, we were in considerably better accommodations than most of the other Tigers on board, but on an aircraft carrier, even the nicest of rooms is small and cramped. We had the eight racks in the room, plus four cots set up for sleeping. Some of the moms on the trip referred to our room as the prisoner of war camp, but we called it the twelve-man. Most of our free time was spent there (where the nearest “head” [bathroom] was just down the hall), or in my brother-in-law’s squadron’s ready room. Meals were taken in one of the three officers’ ward rooms, and according to the other guys, we had far better food while the Tigers were on board. Surprise! We essentially had free reign of most of the ship, aside from obviously secure areas (like, you know, nuclear reactors and things like that), and we never lacked something to do, even if it was just watching Layer Cake or The Right Stuff on the projector in the ready room, or playing Scrabble or another board game with one of the other members of the squadron.

Seriously? Wouldn't that be boring after playing it in real life?

On the second day, just as we rounded the southernmost point of Hawai’i, we were treated to an air power demo. This meant close flybys of the ship by the various aircraft (including one supersonic pass: BOOM!) and examples of some of their capabilities, like the helicopter hovering and fast-roping a team of soldiers to the deck of the ship. A naval power demo followed, with some of the small boys (other ships from the carrier group) showing their maneuverability and firepower.

Too cool for words...

The day before we arrived in San Diego, we said farewell to my brother-in-law and the rest of the air wing. His squadron was the last to depart the ship, bound for their land base and a reunion with the rest of their families. After saying goodbye, we made our way to Vulture’s Row, an outdoor portion of deck on the tower of the carrier that overlooks the flight deck. From our vantage point there, and thanks to two layers of hearing protection, watching the takeoff of my brother-in-law’s plane was only incredibly loud and deck-shaking. Any closer, or without the earplugs, could have been deafening or enough of a jolt to knock you off your feet. It was a sensation unlike any other, and it was incredible to get to be that close. I will be forever grateful to him for the opportunity to see all of these things, because it will likely never happen again.

Land at last

Dad and I got in to San Diego on the early morning almost a week after we’d left Colorado. It was truly spectacular to see the families gather on the pier to greet their wayward husbands and wives and sons and daughters and fathers and mothers. After saying farewell to our new friends, we made our way to the airport where we allowed a coin flip to decide that we were going to drive home instead of flying back to Colorado. Despite my initial misgivings (I was not relishing the thought of two days in a car with dad), it turned out to be a great experience. We drove from San Diego to Blythe, CA on the first night, and then across Arizona and into Socorro, NM on the second day. Upon reaching Santa Fe, Dad and I stopped by the Loretto Chapel, home of the Miraculous Staircase.

Sorry, random stranger. I can't be bothered to crop you out of this photo.

At long last, I made it back to Colorado. Dad dropped me off, we said our goodbyes, and he went on his way to return our rental car and finish the three hour drive home. I came inside and started to work on this blog post for all of you, and here you have it. Now I can get to writing on some of the ideas I came up with on the trip. It was good to get away, but it’s great to be back!