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June 01, 2009

24 Hours at Sea on the USS Nimitz

On Friday, May 29, 2009, fourteen bloggers and “distinguished visitors” served a twenty-four hour tour of duty on the USS Nimitz. The following 140 or so pictures and videos document this visit. This is a very long blog posts as blog posts go, and I know there are ways to create slideshows or other forms of clickable displays. I’ve done it this way for three reasons:

  1. A carrier is a very complex beast, and we saw a lot of stuff.

  2. Clicking through slideshows is a pain in the butt for readers and putting s on pictures is a pain in the butt for me.

  3. Most importantly, sailors on the Nimitz are making huge sacrifices and risking their lives—the least you can do is scroll.

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The USS Nimitz is an aircraft carrier. It’s named after Chester Nimitz (Nimitz signed the US/Japan surrender terms that at the end of World War II). The Nimitz has a crew of approximately 3,000 men and women. When an air wing is deployed on it, the total number of personnel becomes 5,000. It is part of Carrier Strike Group 11.

The Nimitz was commissioned on May 3, 1975. She is 1,115 feet long and 252 wide. Her displacement is 97,000 tons. Her flight deck covers an area of approximately 4.5 acres. She has two nuclear power plants and is capable of speeds exceeding thirty knots.

Embarking

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The day began by driving on the Naval base on Coronado Island in San Diego

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We assembled all our gear, and Navy personnel got it to our rooms.

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Lieutenant Commander Charlie Brown, the Navy’s Public Affairs Officer in San Diego, briefed us about the Navy’s operations on the West Coast.

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Among other things, he explained the social-media efforts of the Navy

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And he solicited followers for the Navy’s Twitter accounts. Note the big font that he uses—clearly he’s read the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint.

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Then we went to another building for a briefing about riding the C2A Greyhound—aka, COD (carrier onboard delivery). This guy’s job is basically to scare the shiitake out of you.

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Now that you’re scared, you’re happy to put on a life vest, cranial (head protection), and googles. This is Andy Sernovitz CWOMM (commander of word of mouth marketing).

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This is Charlene “Groundswell” Li.

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This is Pam “Take Your Cubicle and Shove It” Slim who thought she was posing for Elle.

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This is Robert “Mad Dog” Scoble.

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Then we got on the COD.

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And this guy scared the shiitake out of us again.

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We’re not talking VirginAmerica-like accommodations. There were two windows, the seats don’t recline, and there was condensed water vapor swirling around the floor. There were also no snacks, movies, and mileage program.

Forty-five mind-numbing minutes later, we landed like this.

This Isn’t Kansas Anymore

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The door opened, and we were in another world.

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A good analogy is that you’re a banana slug, and a bird drops you in the middle of a bee hive. Or, you’re from Fargo, North Dakota, and you get teleported to Mumbai.

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We went into a press room where, of all movies, The Guardian was playing on a TV. This is the movie about the Coast Guard starring Kevin Kostner. This was not reassuring.

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There were, however, two Macintoshes in the room. Unfortunately, they may be the only two Macintoshes in the Navy.

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Then the captain of the Nimitz, Michael C. Manazir, welcomed you. He was the first person who didn’t focus on scaring the shiitake out of us.

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This is Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess. It can only mean trouble when she’s on a ship with 4,000 men, and cash is changing hands.

Speaking of hands, Jenny printed new business cards for her trip, and you can read about her design strategy that started with a reference to hands and got cleaner from there.

Vultures Row

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We passed through the hangar next. Here we could get really close to planes.

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This is the door to Vultures Row. Note the numerous warnings.

This is an example of the kind of action we saw from Vultures Row during the day. (Video by Jennifer Van Grove.)

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The women also posed for glamour shots. This is Jennifer Leo, travel blogger of the Los Angeles Times; Beth Blecherman, founder of TechMamas; Jenny Lawson; and Jennifer Van Grove, associate editor of Mashable.

Incidentally, twice as many men chickened out from going on this trip as women. You would be amazed if I told you who the feathered men were.

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I perfected my “F18 landing over a babe’s shoulder” shot.

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Another babe shoulder shot.

All Hams on Deck

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Then it was back to the press room where Lieutenant Sam “Freak Show” Kessler scared the shiitake out of us before taking us on the flight deck. His nickname is “Freak Show” because he used to work in the circus prior to joining the Navy—or at least that’s the story he told us.

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This is the back of Freak Show. He is a shooter—which means that he is responsible for getting aircraft launched. Here’s an explanation of what shooters do.

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Standing on the flight deck is a near-death experience. I have to admit that I love the smell of jet fuel.

This is what a takeoff looks like up close. (Video by Robert Scoble.)

This is how close we were to the jets as they landed. Smiling face: Jennifer Van Grove.

This is Jennifer Leo risking her life to advertise Alltop.

As I was standing next to the arresting cable, all I could think about was, “I wonder if these things ever snap.”

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Beneath the deck are rooms like this where the arresting wires are controlled.

This is what it looks and sounds like when a plane catches the arresting wire.

Up on the Bridge

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Up on the bridge, all is calm and quiet. Basically, Seaman Catherine Aquino is the helmsman and is steering the ship.

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This is quartermaster of the watch Brittany Addair; she is plotting the whereabouts of the ship.

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And this is Lieutenant Tracy Owens. She is the conning officer, and she gave orders for steering and speed changes. I asked the public affairs officer if he timed it so that we’d see three women running the ship, and he just laughed at me.

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The day before we left, I tweeted that I was going on the Nimitz, and a woman told me to look up a friend who was the ship’s Navigator. Here we are together: Commander Edwin Henderson and me.

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This computer on the bridge was running Red Hat.

The Library and Chapel

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This is Commander Francis Foley, the chaplain of the ship. He is responsible for both the chapel and the library.

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The library includes books and computers. There is Internet access, but it has 9600-baud level speed.

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My buddy Clayton Christensen’s book was there. None of mine were, so I donated a copy of Reality Check in case Clayton ever visits the library.

Briefings

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Rear Admiral John W. Miller spent an hour with us. He commands Carrier Strike Group 11, of which the Nimitz is one ship.

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Then Lieutenant Luis Delgado gave us a briefing about Strike Figther Squadron 97. Listen to this interview where he candidly discusses what it means to fly an F18.

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This is Luis’s plane.

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More folks from the 97th. This unit had the best schwag.

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How anyone can fly with night-vision googles is beyond me. It’s like viewing the world through toilet paper tubes covered with green cellophane.

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Beth Blecherman decided to put on a flight suit.

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Let’s just say that you wouldn’t want her to be scrambling a jet to defend our country.

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This lucky sailor blew into Beth’s suit’s tube to simulate the squeeze on her legs that would keep the blood in her head on tight turns. I ran a caption contest for this, and @lippservice wrote the best one: “Are they double Ds yet?” See the other entries here.

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I provided the same service to Charlene Li. This gave a whole new meaning to Groundswell.

This is what a night landing looked like. You can’t see much. Now just imagine you’re the pilot.

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This is an eerie photo of helicopter stored on deck at night.

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Accomodations

We visited the company store late that night. I passed out packets of Via, Starbucks’s new “ready brew” (marketing speak for “instant coffee”) product, to many of the sailors that I met.

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Accommodations were nice: two to a stateroom. This is my roommate, Andy Sernovitz. He got the top bunk because I have a smaller bladder.

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I would bet that at least one of the women stole a Nimitz robe.

Eating

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Eating was never a problem. The food was excellent.

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This was my lunch on the first day.

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We ate with officers several times in Wardroom III.

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The Navy even baked a birthday cake because three Jennifers celebrated their birthdays around the time of the trip. That’s Jennifer Jones, Jennifer Van Grove, and Jennifer Leo.

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We also ate with the enlisted sailors.

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This is a table to honor of sailors who are missing in action.

On Deck When Planes Aren’t Taking Off and Landing

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On deck on the next day, three ships were cruising together. The ship in the middle was a supply ship.

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How do you get pallets of soda over to the Nimitz?

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Helicopter of course!

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One of the distinguished visitors was Jefferson “Zuma” Wagner. He is an actor and stunt guy—including being a body double for Clint Eastwood. He’s also a member of the City Council of Malibu, and someone told me that he’s slated to be the mayor of Malibu soon. Finally, he’s the owner of a surf shop called Zuma Jay and a pyrotechnic operator. Holy kaw!

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Three of the public affairs sailors who hosted us: First Class Mass Communication Specialist (MC1) David Mercil, First Class Mass Communication Specialist (MC1) Ritchie Esguerra, and LTJG Dave Bennett. I’m not sure why they are all crossing their arms.

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This is the front-most edge of the ship. If your plane isn’t airborne by this point, you’re in deep trouble.

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This is Carroll “Lex” LeFon doing his impersonation of the movie Titanic—except that he’s not Kate Winslet and the Nimitz won’t sink anytime soon. (Did you know that a U.S. aircraft carrier has not been attacked since World War II?) It is too bad he didn’t fall off since this is how he described us in his blog:

Truth be told, DV embarks are a huge PITA for the ship’s company. Wide-bodied civilians blocking all the passageways and ladder wells, stepping ever so carefully over the knee knockers, climbing the ladders like asthmatics and descending them like invalids. Asking silly questions, lingering over their coffee in the wardroom, hanging their tushes out of the ice cream locker for what seems like an eternity.

He was, though, the XO of Topgun, so I guess he’s entitled, but it’s going to be a long time before I add him to Military.alltop. :-)

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To his defense, Lex does use a Breitling Emergency, so that makes him cool. too.

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Local boy makes good.

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This guy with his little model airplanes coordinates the deck and hangar. I can’t say that I blame him for not using technology to manage this beehive.

Stuff that Explodes

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This guy is part of the team that manages the guns, missiles, and bombs on the carrier. Someone told me that in terms of firepower, the Nimitz would rank as the fifteenth most powerful country in the world.

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What’s on top of your shelf cabinets?

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Liberal, gun-control, vegan, Prius-owning, Californian Democrats seeing real guns for the first time in their lives.

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Jennifer Leo striking her “Make my day, Kim Jong II” pose.

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Charlene Li getting prepped for battle.

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The Bloggess with a Texas pea shooter looking like Sarah Palin after the $200,000 makeover.

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Scoble may have a bigger lens than me…

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But I have a bigger gun. “Say hello to my little friend,” Guy “Tony Montana” Kawasaki.

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To isolate the areas with bombs and missiles, these ramps go down the ladders to make it difficult to move up and down levels.

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This is the assembly line for making bombs and missiles. It takes about twenty minutes to make a bomb.

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Parts waiting for assembly.

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I think these are air-to-air missiles.

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I loved the color palette of the bunker-buster bombs. That’s PMS 21 in case you’re interested.

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If you’re an entrepreneur or PR person and think you need to kiss Robert Scoble’s butt to get mentioned in his blog, this is the view of the target.

The Bloggess Goes to Jail

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For the first time in the history of the Distinguished Visitors program, a DV was put in the brig.

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This “warm and fuzzy” guy greets you. Think WalMart greeter from Hell on steroids on a very bad day.

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Then you go down these stairs.

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Past a little office.

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And into a cell…

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that looks like this. The main reading material is the Navy Code of Conduct on the wall. You also experience the Navy Brig diet which consists of only bread and water.

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Phase 1 of imprisonment: Defiance.

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Phase 2: Boredom.

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Phase 3: Panic.

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If you behave, you get to go into a group cell…

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which looks like this.

More Departments

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This is the ship’s doctor.

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This is the ship’s operating room.

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This is where the anchoring mechanism does its thing.

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Each big link weighs more than 350 pounds. I could barely lift a small link.

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This is the quarters of the Public Affairs officer, Lieutenant Commander Jason Salata.

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This is the inside of his pad.

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And home of the third Macintosh I’ve seen in the Navy.

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The Navy has a way with signs.

The crew wouldn’t let us carry anything on the COD for the takeoff, so I packed way my camera. However, in October of 2008, I toured the USS Stennis and shot this video with a Flip Mino, so I can still show you what it’s like to take off from a carrier.

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This is a photo that we took on the deck of the Nimitz at the end of the tour. What an adventure it was. Dennis Hall is the guy on the far right. He put the whole expedition together.

All of us want to thank the crew of the Nimitz not only for the tour, but for how they are serving our country.


If you’re part of the extended Nimitz family, other members of the group wrote about the trip. In particular, Bill Reichert, my colleague at Garage, wrote a great post about the management lesson one can learn on a carrier; click here to read it. Here are even more blog posts and pictures:

You may be able to spot people that you know. And thank you for the sacrifices that you make too.

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