San Diego Business Journal

In early December, I experienced a most exciting adventure in making my first arrested landing on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

The carrier, which is based at North Island Naval Air Station, is in the final phase of training before its deployment overseas next year. The training is part of a Joint Task Force Exercise designed to be a realistic exercise in real world operations and the operational challenges faced by U.S. forces in cooperation with coalition militaries.

Our group of 16 people boarded a C-2A Greyhound, the aircraft that normally carries cargo, mail and up to 26 passengers to the carriers. Passengers sit strapped in with protective headgear, sit backward in the plane, which has only two small windows, and when it lands on the carrier at approximately 130 mph, it is brought to a stop by a tailhook in two seconds, traveling less than 300 feet.

On arriving, we were immediately escorted to the flight deck, where F/A-18E Hornet jet fighters were launched by catapult in which the planes accelerate from zero to 130 mph in less than two seconds. The center of the catapult was less than 60 feet from where we were standing. The jets were being launched from the front of the carrier on an alternate basis, while jets were making arrested landings at the rear of the carrier using one of two arresting wires, which bring the jet from approximately 150 mph to an abrupt stop in about 320 feet.

After observing the launches, we were escorted to the rear of the carrier to watch the landings. The wingtips of the landing jets were less than 25 feet from where we were standing. Later that evening, for several hours, we observed from the carrier's central tower "night ops," with aircraft being launched and making arrested landings. When the jet lands on the carrier, it does not decelerate but actually accelerates until the tailhook for certain hooks the arresting wire. If the wire is missed, the jets must be prepared to quickly relaunch. We saw that happen several times, with sparks flying from the tailhook as the jet immediately flew off the carrier for another landing attempt. The Navy personnel on the flight deck with direct responsibility for the aircraft and communicating with the pilots were mostly under 20 years old.

The Reagan was commissioned July 12, 2003, and is the newest, largest and most technically advanced aircraft carrier in the world. It is the first to have the Integrated Communication Advanced Network installed throughout all areas of the ship. The flight deck covers an area of 4.5 acres with a length of 1,096 feet and is capable of launching one jet aircraft every 30 seconds using the four catapults. The carrier is a small city with full medical, dental and postal services with two nuclear reactors that can operate for 20 years without refueling. It is home to 5,000 young men and women, of which 4,500 are less than 20 years of age. The ship provides more than 15,000 meals a day and can stock 90 days of refrigerated and dry storage goods.

There are seven food galleys on board and we had the pleasure of dining in three. We were served dinner in the officer's galley, breakfast in the enlisted personnel's galley (rank E-1 to E-6) and lunch in the master chief's galley (rank E-7 to E-9). We were not restricted in any way in our communication with Navy personnel. At dinner in the officer's galley, I sat across from "The Judge," who is the top judge advocate general attorney on the carrier. When discipline action is necessary, The Judge is the district attorney, and the commanding officer is the actual judge that has a wide range of authority in deciding the sentence, which could be as severe as three days bread and water in an on-board brig or a jail that holds up to 15 prisoners.

During breakfast, I sat across from a young woman, who is just 19, from St. Louis, who had been in the Navy for one year of a four-year enlistment. She worked in maintenance on the flight deck and took great pride in telling me how when problems surface, she personally communicates with the pilots in the cockpit.

At lunch, I had a chance to visit with a nuclear reactor technician from North Dakota who is a 16-year veteran, who may decide on a 30-year career. I also had the opportunity to visit with the command master chief, a woman from Midland, Mich., with 25 years in the Navy. She is the highest-ranking enlisted personnel on the carrier and was very forthcoming about her Navy experience and her specific experience on the ship.

After 24 hours on the carrier, we boarded the C-2A Greyhound for our trip home. It is hard to describe the excitement of the catapult launch. In less than two seconds we were at a ground speed of 130 mph. It by far beats any roller coaster, or other thrill ride, for that matter.

The short time on the Reagan was the opportunity of a lifetime. The Navy personnel on board were truly outstanding and very dedicated to serving our country. The responsibility the Navy delegates to these young 18- and 19-year-old sailors gives them a sense of pride and a firm foundation for life after their Navy service is complete. As Americans, we need to set the politics aside and embrace our military and the individuals serving our country with much needed and deserved respect and support.

Armon Mills is the president and publisher of the San Diego Business Journal.