Last week, I had the honor of leading a group of Swedish and Finnish defense officials on a visit aboard USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) as part of the ship’s last deployment. I am attaching a picture of us about to embark on that memorable day.
At the invitation of the U.S. Naval Sixth Fleet, guests from Swedish and Finnish Ministry of Defense, Parliament and Armed Forces were invited for the day long visit. Our group was flown out to the carrier and experienced an “arrested” landing, as well as a “catapult” launch. Well, actually two landings as we had a rare occurrence of a “hook skip” where the tail hook of our aircraft actually jumped over the wires that were waiting to bring us to an abrupt stop. Thankfully, aircraft carrier pilots are prepared for such an event and we landed successfully on the second attempt!
Between those memorable events, the Swedish and Finnish guests learned about interoperability between Navies and the carrier’s ability to support the full spectrum of foreign policy from humanitarian assistance through power projection. This theme was consistent throughout the visit as many times aircraft carriers are only thought of in the sense of attacking targets. However, during its last deployment in 2011, USS ENTERPRISE participated in the anti-piracy mission off the coast of Africa, much as the Swedish Navy did in 2010.
Another key observation for the guests was the absolute professionalism displayed by the crew of the carrier and the pilots of its air wing. On its 4.5 acre (18,000 square meters) flight deck–the largest in the world, with winds gusting over 30 knots, jet engines literally over the heads of the personnel working while aircraft were taking off and landing just 20 meters away, there was a ballet-level of precision. We were told the average age of those personnel was a mere 19 years old and yet every one of them knew the overall mission of the carrier, their position in contributing to that mission and the required teamwork to accomplish the mission. The ship and air wing leaders provided the training, direction and resources and then let the team complete the mission.
Our Swedish and Finnish guests left the carrier knowing a bit more about the ability of our military forces, as well as our willingness and desire to work with other nations. I think they also left with a bit of admiration for the fine men and women of our country. It was truly a day I will always remember.