The commissioning of an aircraft carrier is a truly special event, one that is emotional as well as inspiring.
For anyone who has served in this country’s military service, it is a unique event because it triggers numerous memories of their time in the service, particularly if the service was in the U.S. Navy. But even for those who have not had the privilege and honor to serve this nation as a sailor, Marine, soldier or aviator, the commissioning of a massive aircraft carrier is a experience that generates a wide range of emotions. There is a sense of appreciation for the service, commitment and dedication of the officers and men and women who serve on the ship and the sacrifice of mothers, fathers, spouses and children of those who serve on ships and are gone from home for months on end.
There is appreciation for the role and mission of a ship such as this in helping protect this country in future conflicts, as well as serving as an instrument to deliver humanitarian aid and help keep peace in various parts of the world. There is pride for the technical skills of those who can build such a sophisticated vessel, and appreciation for the sacrifices made in past years by thousands upon thousands of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while aboard U.S. Navy ships and piloting planes launched from a carrier’s deck.
The commissioning of the George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) last week at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia was a true one-of-a-kind event.
This ship will be the last of the Nimitz-class carriers, and it is anticipated it will sail the seas for about 50 years. At this time, there is no way to accurately predict its mission over such a long period, but the ship’s motto is “Freedom at Work.”
At the commissioning, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the carrier’s crew, “Congratulations on the commissioning of the USS George H.W. Bush. ‘Freedom at Work,’ as you know, is adapted from President Bush’s inaugural speech (Jan. 20, 1989), in which he said, ‘We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right.’ ‘Freedom at Work’ is particularly fitting during this crucial time in our world’s history. As you sail to preserve the freedom of nations and people well beyond our shores, I am confident you will confront the many challenges before you with honor, courage and commitment.
“As you assume ‘the watch’ in support of our nation’s defense, I wish you all the best and look forward to reading of your inevitable successes.”
As several officials at the ceremony noted, it is rare for the individual for whom a carrier is named to be present at the commissioning. Making this event even more unique, not only was the carrier’s namesake, the country’s 41st president, present, but his son, the country’s 43rd president, was the principal speaker.
The speeches, music, prayers, the presence of approximately 2,000 of the ship’s eventual crew of about 6,000 men and women, the manner in which historic U.S. Navy traditions at such ceremonies were carried out, the flyover of the four F-18 fighters, plus a separate flyover of a TBF Avenger bomber (the type of plane Bush flew from a carrier deck in World War II), and the immense feeling of national pride and patriotism all combined to bring tears to the eyes of a large percentage of the more than 18,000 people at the ceremony.
Granted, there probably were a number of those in the audience who may not have been fans or admirers of George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush, but chances are, even those in this category were emotionally moved by the ceremony itself, their love of this country and its freedoms and the service of thousands of young men and women who will serve aboard this ship.
A few statistics describing the size of the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77):
• Contract awarded January 2001.
• Seven-year construction timetable.
•Keel laid September 2003.
• Top speed more than 30 knots.
• Powered by two nuclear reactors that can operate for more than 20 years without refueling.
• The ship can carry more than 80 combat aircraft.
• Three two-inch diameter arresting wires on the deck bring a plane going 150 mph to a stop in less than 400 feet.
• A flight deck measuring 4.5 acres, towers that are 20 stories above the ship’s waterline, a deck that is 1,092 feet long.
• Four bronze propellers, each 21 feet across; two rudders, each 29 feet by 22 feet and weighing 50 tons.
• Enough food and supplies to operate for 90 days, serving 18,150 meals every day.
• A distillation plant that can provide 400,000 gallons of fresh water from sea water every day.
The next generation of U.S. Navy carriers now is under construction with the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) due to be delivered in 2015 to replace the USS Enterprise (CVN 65), and CVN 79 is programmed to begin construction in 2012 with commissioning in 2018.
Both the 2015 and 2018 dates are many years away, but for those who are able and who have love and pride for this country, there is no better or more effective tonic or elixir than being present for the commissioning of a giant U.S. aircraft carrier.