As always, through the gracious invitation of the U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney, we were given the opportunity to tour and do live feeds from the U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington (CVN-73). It was a once in a lifetime experience since the last time an aircraft carrier was in the Philippines was 13 years ago, in 1996. Plus, the visits are always by invitation, because they don’t do open houses, not even in the U.S. So by the time we got to the Mall Of Asia, we were stoked. We got on board a ferry that will bring us 5 miles off shore to where the carrier is. It’s far enough that you can’t even see it’s outline from the MOA. We were entrusted to the media officer, Tanner Lang, who served as our guide until we got to the USS GW.
He was very gracious, even debuting his acting skills on a TV morning show, bantering with a puppet. He said he was more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. He was very willing to answer whatever question we had, trying to entertain us and crews from both ABS-CBN and GMA. Then after a 30-minute ride, we were told to take a peek outside because we were approaching the star of the show.
I had goosebumps, really, seeing it even from afar. It was like seeing a Hollywood celebrity. I only get to see this on TV or in the movies. It’s not my first encounter with aircraft carriers. My uncle was in the U.S. navy, and one time when we were in Subic (when it was still a base), the USS Kitty Hawk was also open to the families of the U.S. military. But I was so young then. This was different. Plus, we were given access to areas few civilians have had the privilege to visit.
The ferry docked by a floating barge near the butt end of the carrier. It was much bigger than any of us had imagined! We weren’t prepared for the sheer size of that thing! It was like a floating building. When on board, it felt so stable that you wouldn’t even know you were afloat; no rocking whatsoever. Our first stop was the hangar.
This is where they usually house the planes. But for that day, most of them were on the flight deck. The three teams broke up into smaller units, with the TV stations going their own ways filming in separate areas, while we were assigned to a Public Affairs Officer, KC Marshall, who kindly volunteered to take us under his wing and tour us around. We wanted to interview him, but he said he wanted us to talk to someone who really had hands-on experience with the ship. So he said we’d try to find a pilot up on the flight deck.
No fancy staircases on the carrier, this is how most of the stairs looked like on the ship. No wonder they advised us in the invites to wear comfortable shoes. We climbed quite a few of these stairs to get to the flight deck. And when we got there, it took our breaths away.
The word for it was VAST. It was just so big! I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we were basically just on a really big boat. It felt more like a city. And to walk from the bow to the other end is quite a workout! KC managed to find us an actual pilot to interview. He was a pilot for one of the many F-18 Hornets on board the ship. His name was James Houghton or “Mud”. Here’s Mud with KC.
The interview turned out great, mainly because Mud was a natural on radio! The guy’s got jokes! He was having fun and it sounded it. He answered most of our questions, but was mum on some, I guess secret info, like if there were submarines accompanying the carrier. But we had a blast talking to him over Monster Radio RX 93.1. Turns out there could be as many as 110 planes on board, roughly 5,000 crew, and as much as 30 planes in the air at a time. Even off-air, the amount of stuff we learned from them made our head spin. Fascinating.
Mud took us on an extensive tour, even showing us the catshot, which is the thingamabob that catapults the planes from the ship. There are four of those on the flight deck, and apparently, the runway just isn’t long enough, so without the catshot, the plane would simply drop into the sea. I swear, I only got to see these things on Top Gun and Final Countdown. And of course, the planes! As far as I know, there were only four types on board. The F-18 Hornet:
Wanna see how a Hornet looks like head-on?
And a view from behind:
There’s also the EA-6B Prowler, which jams the enemy radar:
The Sea Hawk, which is the Navy version of the Black Hawk:
And the E-2 Hawkeye, which acts as the “eyes of the fleet”:
Eventually it was time to leave the flight deck and proceed to the bridge. I swear, everything on this boat was BIG:
When we got to the bridge, everything felt so important. This is where the brains of the operations sit. This is where the Captain Kirks and Sulus and Chekhovs “drive” the ship.
We got to interview Quarter Master First Class Salazar, who makes sure he knows exactly where they are. He makes sure they’re not drifting. He also gave us tidbits like it takes 15 minutes for an aircraft carrier to make a complete u-turn. There were so many gizmos and doodads on the bridge that surprisingly look quite old school, like something you’d find in Captain Nemo’s Nautilus:
Here’s a great view of the flight deck from the bridge:
By the time we were done with the bridge, we were also completely pooped. We realized we’ve been standing and walking for almost 6 hours straight! After saying our goodbyes, we boarded the ferry again, back to MOA, and it felt like we just visited an otherworldly existence, far removed from our own. We got sad and nostalgic, not even 10 minutes off the boat! Again, we could never thank enough the people responsible for the experience. Of course the U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney, for always remembering to invite us to their events, Agnes Caballa of the U.S. Embassy, for always suggesting us to the ambassador and always taking care of us during their events, and of course our hosts for the day, Tanner Lang, James “Mud” Houghton, and our guide throughout the whole time, KC Marshall. (With KC and Agnes):
Of course, this is just Day 1. The next day, we were also invited to attend the dinner party hosted by Ambassador Kenney, also on board the USS George Washington. (To be continued…)