When we got the invitation from U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney inviting us to a dinner party on board the USS George Washington, we were thrilled to accept. Then, a couple of days before the dinner, we got word that they were also inviting us to a tour (which I posted about already) the day before the dinner. So Wednesday, we did the tour, and then Thursday, the dinner. Unfortunately, Delle got sick after the tiring tour and was already sick the next day, too ill to join the dinner. So I just went with our station manager, Divine Dolina, for the perfect way to cap off the whole aircraft carrier experience.
This time around, instead of in the morning, we were in Mall of Asia by 5pm. On our way to the carrier, we passed by the two Destroyers that accompanied the USS George Washington, the USS Cowpense and the USS Fitzgerald. They’re the first line of defense, so carriers are always accompanied by destroyers, usually two.
Also, this time, I was able to take a photo of the carrier from the side, something I failed to do the day before because of the angle with which the ferry approached the carrier. This time, the angle was perfect!
Even if I was just there the day before, the sight of it really still gave me goosebumps. It had a very King Kong feel, this behemoth that comes into view slowly from the misty horizon. I can’t help romanticizing it because even as a child I was fascinated by aircraft carriers. I even had all the carriers at the time memorized! As we got closer, eventually we took the same angle to dock at the carrier’s rear.
Same thing as yesterday, only this time, all the officers were wearing their dress whites and everything is a little bit formal, although the invite stated the attire as “smart casual”. Yet, despite the advisory on wearing comfy clothes and shoes, many still came in gowns and suits and barongs.
Plus, our path that night was paved with red carpets wherever we went. I felt like a delegate to the United Nations or something!
It was a bit disconcerting having all those soldiers saluting and greeting you wherever you went. Surreal!
We were greeted at the entrance by the U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney. As always, she was so warm in welcoming us and she told us she heard great things about the live feeds we did the day before. She was so appreciative, that we had to remind her that it was we, who felt quite lucky to have had the opportunity.
We also got to meet a lot of people, mostly officers of the U.S Navy, they were very much willing to engage you in conversations, soliciting any questions that the guests might have. But I was thrilled to have met one of the most popular people in the Philippines right now, or maybe even the world, the “Pambansang Kamao”, Manny Pacquiao!
Talk about starstruck!!! Wow, that guy is larger than life. He was mobbed by fans, especially the American officers! And he was so gracious, patiently shaking hands and posing and smiling for the cameras, even if he had little time to do anything else. We also got to meet Charice Pempengco, who sang a song for the crowd.
There was also a ceremony where some soldiers presented the flags in a dramatic ritual that silenced the crowd. Then after, the national anthems of both countries were played.
After the program, the guests got to go to the flight deck via the aircraft elevator. But more on that later. When we got up, only a smaller portion of the flight deck was cordoned off, unlike the day before when we got to go everywhere.
I got to talk to another pilot, Chris Moran, who flew on the Hawkeye, and I cracked the lamest joke I could deliver to a pilot. I said, “So Chris, your last name is Moran? So…do you fly a bomber?” Get it? Bomber Moran? Obviously, I realized he wouldn’t know who Bomber Moran was, the moment the punchline left my mouth. I know, pathetic. Crashed and burned. Sank like a rock.
Then, I had to go to the toilet. The entire 6 hours we were on board the day before, we never got to go to the bathroom. So I was really curious about how toilets on aircraft carriers looked like. I asked around, and they pointed me to a dark corner in one nook on the ship:
The sentry then guided me into the metal door, and down a couple of stairs and down some corridors before we finally got to the industrial-looking toilet. It was no luxurious hotel bathroom, but it serves its purpose. Just for your curiosity:
Now we come to what for me was the highlight of the evening. Like I described earlier, guests were ferried from the hangar to the flight deck and back via the elevator they use in transporting planes up and down the ship. It’s large enough to fit two F-18′s at a time. Chris Moran said that we were REALLY lucky because even he, a longtime pilot on aircraft carriers, has never ridden on those elevators. No wonder even the military men seemed excited. I tried to take pictures of the elevator, but it was so big that no angle sufficed to capture the moment. So instead, I took a video. Here’s one that showed, from my vantage point, how it was going from the flight deck down to the hangar. Incredible.
Wow, so there you go, an experience I won’t soon forget. Two days on board an aircraft carrier. Words and pictures just aren’t enough to even approximate actually being there. Grateful is the word that comes to mind when looking back. I could never thank enough the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Kenney for the opportunity. Hopefully, against all odds, this won’t be the last time I’ll be on board an aircraft carrier. I get melancholic just talking about it.