Just call me Tiger: My week aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz February 02, 2018
By Dr. Cam JaysonMy grandson Zach is a nuclear machinist’s mate on the United States nuclear powered aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Nimitz. In October of 2017, while he was on the Nimitz and returning from an Arabian Gulf deployment, he emailed me to see if I would like to join him for the last part of the cruise aboard the aircraft carrier.
The Navy refers to these invitations and subsequent cruises as “Tiger Cruises.” The name is derived from the code word “tiger” used when these public relations events started many years ago. Zach also invited my son Sean (Zach’s father), and Chris Holms (Zach’s father-in-law from New York).
Zach Jayson mans the rails as the Nimitz leaves Pearl Harbor. All the sailors stand in their dress white uniforms around the periphery of the ship.
The cruise was to originate at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, and end at San Diego, California. The trip would last seven days, and we “Tigers” would live aboard in equivalent conditions to the rank of our sponsor, in this case, my grandson, Zach.
Father and son, Sean (left) and Cam Jayson are pictured on the Nimitz fantail.So off Sean and I left to meet Zach in Hawaii. Sean and I left Minneapolis on a direct flight to Honolulu, Hawaii, on November 27, 2017. We left at 7 a.m. and arrived at Honolulu at 3 p.m. after gaining hours through several time zones. What a treat to get off the airplane to be greeted by tropical Hawaiian breezes with the smell of flowers in the air.
After picking up our luggage (very little of it, as each Tiger is required to live like a sailor, so no roller suitcases or excess clothing), we were met by enlisted sailors known as “Tiger Wranglers” who brought us to the bus that delivered us to the Nimitz. There we would be met by our sponsor who would escort us onto the warship.
Father and son, Sean (left) and Zach Jayson.As we were checked through the Naval base security gate, we could see the gigantic form of the carrier in front of us. I felt a lump of pride in my throat as I briefly reminisced about my time serving in the United States Army as a dental officer during the Vietnam War. I remembered how proud I was to have served my country, and how proud I was of my grandson now serving.
A destroyer of Strike Force as seen from the hanger deck.Soon Zach came down to meet us. Looking at him as a grandpa, he appeared thin to me. “Are they feeding you?” I asked.
“Ya,” he said. “I get plenty to eat, Big Guy.” He has always called me Big Guy, not grandpa.
Zach took us to the ship. To get onboard, one must climb up four long flights of stairs to get to the hanger deck where we were to check in. And of course we were expected to carry all our stuff up those stairs just like the sailors. I was sure glad I packed light. After showing our respect for the Commander on duty (with a salute) and the Colors (also with a salute), we proceeded to check in and be assigned to our rack (bed and storage area).
Pictured (l. to r.) are Tiger Cam Jayson, Sailor Zach Jayson, Tiger Chris Holms and Tiger Sean Jayson.Because Zach, our sponsor, is assigned to the reactor department, our berthing area is the reactor department’s enlisted berthing area. It is located two decks below the hanger deck where we checked on to the ship. The only way to get anywhere on the ship in walking or climbing.
Climbing is done between decks on steep ladders through narrow hatches. Walking is done everywhere else. The ship is over 1,000 feet long with 5,200 people onboard. Needless to say, carrying one’s luggage down two decks through narrow hatches on steep ladders is not for the faint of heart. But we arrived in the berthing area where I was pleased to find that my rack was the middle of three racks high in an area of six racks, an area of about 10 feet by 12 feet total.
A helicopter demo.I was dismayed to find that the rack’s storage area was full of some sailor’s clothes, so I resigned myself to living out of my backpack and bag for the trip. The real challenge was getting into the rack for this overweight 73-year-old, since there was only about 18 inches of space between my rack and the top rack. I finally figured it out. Picture a small whale sliding on his belly after lifting his leg up onto the rack, then turning over onto his back. At that point, my nose was about 10 inches from the bottom of the top rack, not enough room to hold a book or for my bifocals to focus, I concluded. There is a reason that our sailors are young, physically-fit men and women.
Next on our agenda was chow on the mess deck, one deck up. We had our meals with the lower grade enlisted, since my grandson is a Second Class Petty Officer. In that mess hall, you wait in a line to go through the chow line, sometimes for an hour, and the line goes both horizontally on the deck and vertically up to the decks above the mess deck. We got plenty of exercise climbing up and down deck ladders. My knees and legs became stronger with each ladder and mile walked. My wrist pedometer registered nearly five miles each day onboard. There is a lot of food, so you never have to be hungry; however, when the mess is preparing 25,000 meals per day, the food is, at best, institutional.
The next morning, we were leaving Pearl Harbor. As we leave the sailors all stand in their dress white uniforms around the periphery of the ship. They call this sail out under tugboat “manning the rails.” This morning was especially moving as we watched the ship and her company “present honors” as we passed by the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.
We Tigers stood proudly with hand salute along with the ship’s company to pay respect. I couldn’t help remembering Dante Tini who is entombed in the Arizona. He is memorialized as one of the namesakes of Virginia’s Crellin-Tini Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1113.
We were now underway. We all feel like sailors now. The ship rolls from side to side as big as she is, sometimes dropping as much as 20 feet. I was more than a little worried about seasickness, although it hasn’t affected me often. Thankfully, Jon’s Drug in Eveleth put me on to seasickness bands that put pressure on two wrist acupressure points to prevent the problem. I am not sure if they worked or the psychological effect was what worked, but no seasickness.
We were leaving Hawaii to our next port of call, San Diego, southern California. The ship’s final destination is her home port in Bremerton, WA. Aaah, tropical clothes and a warm cruise. Wrong!! At sea, it is cold and often windy. A down shirt with a couple of layers underneath is the order of the day. And sleeping at night is definitely under a wool blanket or in a sleeping bag. Our berthing area is below the waterline of the ship, so it is as cool as the water and, in December, even in the Pacific it is cool.
Up at 1 a.m. due to not being adjusted to
the time zone changes. I found a place to sit and read, but there is always a sailor up, since they work three shifts in the reactor division. Therefore, there is always someone to visit with and make a new friend.
Today we get our “Tiger Bags,” a small backpack full of items for our use on the ship. A nice cap to identify us, as well as t-shirts, a medallion, a patch, and other souvenirs. We visit the jet engine shop this morning with an air show demonstration in the afternoon. All 75 aircraft—most of them F-18 Super Hornets— are repaired onboard the carrier. It is amazing to see the skill and pride these sailors have in keeping these fighting aircraft in top operation.
The afternoon air show is an event that can only be done at sea. The F-18s fly over the carrier deck at 100-150 feet, so close you can see the pilot in the cockpit. In addition, they kick in the afterburner which causes the aircraft to break the sound barrier. What a rush to feel the boom, as well as hear it. (Better have ear plugs in.) We all feel a sense of pride in our fighting men and women as we watch this display.
This morning is another air show with the display of armaments. The F-18s drop ten, 500-pound live real bombs in the ocean off the port side of the ship. Very impressive. The carrier strike force’s mission on this deployment was to bomb Isis sites near the Arabian Gulf, so this display of bombing had a practical meaning for us Tigers.
Since the Nimitz is the flagship of this Carrier Strike Force, it is defended by several surface ships, such as Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyers and Guided Missile Cruisers, as well as 75 aircraft on board. If all of these deterrents fail to protect the carrier from a threat, there are defensive weapons onboard to deter that threat. On this day we were given a demonstration of the 50 caliber machine guns and c-whiz guns that shoot 4,500 very large bullets every minute to take down any incoming missile. The rest of the cruise
We Tigers were given access and tours of nearly all of the carrier for the rest of the cruise. The only areas that were off-limits were the two nuclear reactors that power the ship. We were able to climb the island to the various control areas, and were given unusual access and explanation in all areas. (The island is that part of an aircraft carrier that rises above the flight deck on one side of the warship. It contains the bridge and various flight and armament control centers, such as control of aircraft landing and taking off, weapons control, navigation and control of the ship, and more.)
I was treated like a V.I.P. when we visited the medical and dental clinics. The dental commander personally guided me around the space and introduced me to all of the personnel. The carrier has very complete medical and dental departments with two operating rooms, a surgeon, and five M.D.s. The dental clinic has five dentists and an oral surgeon. They even have a CAD-CAM dental milling machine onboard that can fabricate crowns in one appointment for any member of the ship’s company.
A few final notes
We all can be proud of our naval fighting men and women if they are all like those who serve on the Nimitz. They were extremely respectful and friendly to me at all times, and were eager to help and answer questions. All were highly professional in their duties, and exhibited a sense of humor at many times that was refreshing.
Life aboard is not easy, so I have great respect for all who serve there. I have already spoken of the berthing experience and the ladder climbing, but I did not mention the heads (bathrooms). The closest one to our berthing area was up one deck, then a 40-foot walk after first walking 20 feet on the berthing deck to get to the ladder to the upper deck. All this done in the dark or in very low light at night when some of us get up to use the facility.
Sailors get lots of food onboard, but they wait in line for a good long time (average of 20 minutes), if they get to eat at all, because standing one’s watch comes first, before food. In addition to their regular duty, from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. each sailor must participate in “cleaning stations” where they clean the ship from top to bottom.
Last, but not least, is the fact that these brave men and women are on deployment for nine months minimum, and the only contact with their loved ones is the occasional email or snail-mail. They do all this for very little pay and even less praise from us in civilian life. On behalf of all of us, I give them thanks.
And for me personally, I say God bless them and keep them safe. As an old army soldier, I am proud to be called “Tiger.”
Dr. Cam Jayson lives in Fayal Township (Eveleth), MN. He is now retired, but practiced clinical dentistry for 44 years, first in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and for many years in private practice in Virginia. He made use of his doctorate business degree by serving as an adjunct professor for the University of Minnesota, the College of St. Scholastica and Mesabi Community College.
Published at hometownfocus.us