NORFOLK, VA (WAVE) - The U.S. Navy has been a historically significant force for 238 years. It was a thrill and honor to be invited to spend time at Naval Station Norfolk, the world's largest naval station, with the largest concentration of U.S. Navy forces.
There were sailors from all over the country. Within five minutes of my arriving on base, I met Boatswain's Mate Justin Rose. He proudly shared with me he was from Fairdale, Kentucky. With that announcement, I quickly hugged him as I knew his family would do if they were present.
Boatswain's Mate Rose was joined by Petty Officer Pinto from Lexington, Kentucky and Aviation Ordnance Technician Chuck Young from Fairdale, Kentucky. It was their duty that day to make sure the flight suit I wore would be worn correctly. This proved to be the most difficult part of my journey. Every seam, button and belt had to be in place before I began my adventure.
They were patient as I returned time and time again to the dressing room to fix my uniform to make sure I was in line with the rest sailors. My belt had to line up with the seam of my outfit while the silver buckle on the belt must be in a position as well.
It took at least 15 minutes or more to make this happen. As I moaned about the fact I had to keep it that way throughout the day, Yeoman Callie Burke made it perfectly clear why following these rules are more than just part of a fashion statement.
Burke explained, "We are taught at the very beginning in boot camp -- attention to detail and uniformity is the most important!"
"It's very important," she stressed. "All the jobs in the military you have to pay attention to detail because it could be somebody's life."
That attention to detail becomes second nature even on the battlefield. It becomes second nature to who they are and what they do. That thought stayed in my mind as I honored the training in each branch of the military by keeping my uniform as close to perfect as I could.
My adventure began much differently than I thought it would. Aircrewman Rion Johnson was excited to share what he believed the nation overlooks.
"We operate on sea. We operate on land. We operate in places very few get the chance to do," Johnson said with great pride.
It was clear to see as I stood in an airplane hangar bigger than the size of a football field, the U.S. Navy is a force that goes beyond sea power. America's Navy is unique in that it conducts missions on all fronts.
Everything from combat, to peacekeeping, to humanitarian assistance.
Again, with great pride Johnson continued, "It's an all-purpose branch. It blows my mind how many things we can do."
Airman -- and Harlan, Kentucky native -- Desiree Bowman joined in proclaiming, "They only see a lot of ships. You know being Navy they think of ships. They don't think of the aircraft."
Pilot Allen Kendricks chimed in, "All my friends back home think I'm in the Airforce." He laughed, "Instinctively they see me in a flight suit or lying they think I'm in the Airforce, so I make sure they know this is Navy."
Lt. Commander Grey Pickerill does his best to prepare each sailor under his command for the unexpected on land, sea or in the air.
"The world has to know we have the capability to project power ashore," Pickerill said with force.
Yeoman Burke said proudly, "We're deployment ready so anybody can go any moment in time."
A perfect example was the Navy's deployment to help those in Texas as Hurricane Harvey swallowed entire cities.
"As far as humanitarian assistance, the Navy takes the cake on that cause we're always the first person to call," Aircrewman Johnson exclaimed.
Johnson and several other sailors worked hand-in-hand with the Coast Guard giving life-saving aid after Harvey's historic floods left behind epic damage and loss of life.
"What I saw was boats driving where cars would usually be driving at," Johnson said shaking his head. "That to me blew my mind."
Sonar Technician and Petty Officer Pinto agreed. "It's a lot more than everyone assumes it is," he said. "It's a lot more than just going out to sea."
Petty Officer Pinto is a native of Lexington, Kentucky with family in Louisville. He joined to see the world and serve his country. He has gotten all he expected and more.
Aviation Ordinance Technician Chuck Young also wanted to see the world. What he didn't expect was the overwhelming feeling of what he missed at home.
"It's just the small simple things," Young said while shaking his head. "Going to a theme park. Going to Churchill Downs. Things like that. Going to the mall."
Somerset Native and Yeoman Callie Burke has been around the world, too, but realizes now there is no place like home.
Burke laughed as she shared, "I miss the country. I love the horses. I love the country feel. I miss having my own garden."
Boatswain's Mate Rose has only been on base for about five weeks. Going from Bullitt County to life on an aircraft carrier has been an experience.
"I don't know, just trying to find your way around the ship," Rose said as he shrugged his shoulders. "It's all different. Everything is different about it."
Even though he is part of a brotherhood and sisterhood that includes thousands, Rose added,"I'm really family-oriented so I love being with my family."
Rose and the other sailors know they are serving as guardians for America's freedom and defending the life we know, but thoughts of home are never too far away.
"We take a lot of pride in our work," Rose exclaimed.
Airman Desiree Bowman wants her hometown of Harlan, Kentucky to know she is representing them well.
Bowman points to her name and hometown painted on the side of a Navy jet and says with a big smile, "I got this put on a jet because I got my plane Captain certification. It's actually a major accomplishment as an Airman."
"You feel the power of the jet when it lands and it's like, 'Oh my gosh I was able to send that plane out and bring it back,'" she said with a smile, never removing her hand from the site on the jet that carried her name.
IT3 Joshua McCubbin hopes everyone back home understands why they are all serving in the U.S. Navy.
"The reason I'm serving is because I have people back home that I love," he said proudly. "I want to do this for them."
Airman Bowman agreed, "It gets a little emotional. It makes you emotional cause you realize what you're doing for your country."
As I approach the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush, I make sure my uniform is in order and that I am ready to board. The ship is the tenth and final Nimitz-class supercarrier of the United States Navy. She is named for the 41st President of the United States, and former Director of Central Intelligence, George H. W. Bush, who was a naval aviator during World War II. It is powered by two nuclear reactors that can operate for more than 20 years without refueling. It towers 20 stories above the waterline with a 4.5-acre flight deck. The flight deck on a Naval aircraft carrier is the most dangerous 4 acres in the world.
Airman Bowman exclaims, "You feel the power of the jet when it lands. You can fell when it hits the deck."
"You gotta keep in mind the ships not stopped either," IT3 McCubbin added. "The ship is still trucking through the ocean. These guys aren't just landing on a land strip. They are landing on a floating ship that's speeding on the ocean."
It is more like a floating city.
The George H. W. Bush is home to about 5,000 Navy personnel. It is nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall. There are 30,000 light fixtures and 1,600 miles of cables and wiring. There is a convenience store, a Barber Shop, and just about anything else you may need for daily life.
There are also a crew of Navy personnel that make sure the sailors are feed well.
They not only serve fresh-baked goods daily and a variety of foods too many to count, they remind the sailors about eating to be at their best. There are signs above each dish with a reminder of how often they should consume the food during the week. It all depends of the nutritional value of the food. Fried chicken wings carried a label that said, "Eat Rarely." Baked sweet and sour wings carried a sign that read "Eat Occasionally." I was surprised at the high quality of the food and the large selection.
Our U.S. Navy is something to be aware of. It is something to be thankful for. It is something to be proud of and most of all, it is supported by many sailors that call WAVE country home.