It was the chance of a lifetime. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, my next lives as a goat, a chicken feather and a booksalesman in Idaho named “Stan” will never see its equal. For the next 1,300 years, I’m officially out of luck.
But you can’t take this away from me.
Flagler College faculty member Barry Sand and I got the chance to fly out to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Theodore Roosevelt, where we spent the night, watched them launch and recover aircraft, and generally tried to take souvenirs of anything that wasn’t tied, welded or bolted down.
A common refrain: “Can you fit this landing gear in your bag?”
They call it the “Big Stick,” as in Teddy’s famous saying about speaking quietly and carry one. The ship fits the motto, bristling with firepower, military technology and pilots who must essentially takeoff and land on a floating shoebox.
We got to see it all: takeoffs from the flight deck, night landings, the giant catapults, the 2,000-pound laser guided bombs. And the bunks.
Sleeping arrangements are not unlike a night in a Maytag refrigerator box, although I think there would be more headroom. I slept on the top of three stacked bunks, so high that I needed a pick ax, oxygen tank and a Sherpa to get up there.
We wandered the guts of this mighty warship, spoke with every sailor whose ear we could turn and ate their food. (It was good.)
Then the next day we were launched off by one of the massive steam-operated catapults, propelling our plane from 0-150 mph in 2 seconds. I don’t know how many Gs we pulled, strapped backwards into that supply plane, but it was enough.
The crew lets you know you’re about to launch by waving their arms in the air and screaming, “Here we go!” Moments later your body lurches forward like you’re being dragged back to earth, concrete weighing down every inch of your body.
I expect that’s what it feels like to be electrocuted — your body locked up and you straining with all your might to move from this debilitating paralysis, until a friend smacks you free with a 2X4.
My face strained as I was pressed harder against my harness, and I worried I might squish out like squeezable cheese.
Then, just like it began, it was over. Barry and I looked at each other, exchanging those glances that scream, “We just shared something amazing together and I think I wet my pants.”
As a little kid, my dad brother and I traveled the country hitting every mothballed carrier, battleship and military bathtub-turned-museum we could find. I always marveled at their sizes, their efficient use of space and how the U.S. Navy had perfected doorways that could snap a shin bone in half.
But those were all retired ships, with quiet hallways that you had to imagine sailors racing through. So to finally see one of these hulking beasts alive, its veins coursing with men and women as the ship steamed to some far off mission, was a dream come true.
I told an admiral who asked me how I was enjoying the trip that: 1) if they converted part of the ship to condos, they could really cash in; and 2) that no matter what part of the political divide you come from, you can’t help but appreciate the incredible, and very difficult, job they’re doing for our country.
And they’re kids, most the age of college freshman, all working on million-dollar jet engines, parking planes, steering ships, dishing out food and missing their families for months at a time.
I don’t go in for mushy, but he said something I can agree with: “If you’re worried about the future of today’s youth, this trip will reassure you.”
It did. I came away feeling very proud, very appreciative. And there was another feeling — that I don’t want my two feet leaving the comfort of dry, sturdy land for a long time.