Tag Archives: Charles Wilson

Time of My Life, Part 8: Aircraft carrier landing . . . and takeoff!

It’s not every day that one can say you’ve landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier — and then shot off the deck via catapult.

I can make that claim. I owe it to the job I used to do as a newspaper editorial page editor and columnist.

What a rush, man!

My phone rang one morning in 1993 while I worked as editorial page editor of the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise. On the other end of the line was the late U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, the Lufkin Democrat who was known as “Good Time Charlie,” because of his rather rascally reputation; he enjoyed the company of women and was damn proud of his reputation.

He also was a dedicated East Texas congressman who took good care of his constituents and who was a staunch supporter of the men and women in uniform. He called to invite me to accompany him on a factfinding trip he was making to San Diego, Calif. He wanted to tour the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. “Are you interested in going?” he asked. I said I would get to him. I asked my editor if I could go; he said “yes.” I called Wilson back and accepted his invitation. The newspaper made the travel arrangements. I flew to San Diego a few days later and met with Wilson at the hotel.

Wilson’s party gathered at the naval air station the next morning, boarded a turbo-prop airplane used to carry mail and supplies to the carrier, which was about 100 miles offshore on a training mission.

The COD is a sturdy aircraft. However, I have to tell you that you haven’t lived until you’ve landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The plane carried us toward the Carl Vinson and began its descent. It would descend in fits and starts, suddenly and occasionally violently. I thought my guts were going to fall out as the plane descended rapidly toward the deck.

Then the plane landed. It came to a sudden stop, owing to the tailhook that grabbed the cable strung across the deck.

We spent three nights aboard the Carl Vinson, visiting with pilots, deck crews, sailors who performed all manner of support tasks to support a ship carrying about 5,000 sailors and Marines.

We watched “night flight ops” with A-6 Intruders, F-14 Tomcats and FA-18 Hornets taking off and landing in the dead of night.

We walked the deck with the commander of the ship, Capt. John Payne, who told us the Carl Vinson battle group carried more explosive firepower than all the bombs dropped on all theaters during World War II. That prompted the obvious question, or so I thought, so I asked it: “Skipper, do you have nukes on board?” He looked at me and with the slightest of smiles he said, “You know I can’t answer that.” Hmm, I thought, I believe he just did.

A brief aside: In May 2011, when SEALs and CIA operatives killed Osama bin Laden, they took his corpse to the Carl Vinson, where he was given a “burial at sea.”

Then we had to leave the ship. We boarded the COD and got strapped in. To say we were fastened tightly is to commit a most-serious understatement. Yep, the flight crew made damn sure we would be fastened securely. We were instructed to watch for the hand signal when we were set to be thrown off the deck.

Then it came. The catapult threw the plane off the deck, taking us from zero to about 150 knots in about, oh, one second! I have difficulty describing the sensation for that single second. I was facing to the rear of the aircraft, so I felt my facial flesh separate from my skull — for that instant before we were airborne.

We landed safely. Gathered our gear and went our separate ways.

Suffice to say that the experience was one I’ll never forget. I cherish the time I was able to spend with servicemen and women who are trained to do dangerous work in defense of our great country. I learned a good deal about a member of Congress I already had respected and watched him show his support for our troops.

That carrier landing and catapult takeoff also were epic events.

They remain among the highlights of my life.

Enter the USS Carl Vinson

I heard the news of a Navy carrier battle group heading toward the Korean Peninsula and took special note of the aircraft carrier leading the group.

It’s the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered beast with which I have some limited familiarity.

I don’t know, of course, what all this means overall. North Korean madman/dictator Kim Jong Un is rattling his sabre yet again. He’s launching missiles into the Sea of Japan and threatening war against South Korea, Japan and maybe even the United States.

So the Carl Vinson battle group is heading toward the peninsula in a show of strength.

I received a marvelous assignment in 1993 at the invitation of the late U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, an East Texas Democrat who was a huge supporter of military affairs. I was editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise at the time and our paper circulated deeply into Wilson’s 2nd Congressional District.

He invited me to join him on a tour of the Carl Vinson, which at the time was home-ported at San Diego, Calif. The ship was at sea at the time of Wilson’s invitation. I asked my editor if I could go; he said “yes.” The paper purchased my plane ticket and I flew to San Diego to meet with Wilson and his congressional party.

We landed on the Carl Vinson and spent three days and nights aboard ship. Rep. Wilson spent time talking to pilots, deck crew members, machinists, cooks. He told all of them how much he appreciated the work they did and the service they performed in defense of the nation.

By the way, you have not lived until you’ve been through a tailhook landing and a catapult launch off the deck of an aircraft carrier. Believe me, there is nothing in this entire world quite like either experience.

During a tour of the flight deck, the skipper of the ship at the time, Capt. John Payne, told us of the immense firepower contained on the ships comprising the battle group.

He then said something quite astonishing. He said the group — which comprised several warships, including cruisers, destroyers and frigates as well as support craft along with this monstrous carrier — contained more explosive firepower than all the ordnance dropped during World War II.

Of course, that prompted the question from yours truly: “Skipper, does that mean this ship is carrying nukes?” Capt. Payne looked me in the eye and said, “Now you know I can’t answer that question.”

OK. Got it.

Twenty-four years later, the USS Carl Vinson is still on active duty. It’s now heading for a potentially very dangerous zone. I do believe the ship and its massive crew will be ready for whatever occurs.

USS Gerald Ford: no sign of disarmament there

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The U.S. Navy is about to commission its latest super warship.

Its price tag is a doozy: $13 billion. Yep, that’s billion, man. For a single ship.

It’s named after the 38th president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, who served with distinction as a naval officer during World War II.

Why bring it up here?

We keep hearing along the Republican Party presidential primary campaign tour that the current president, Barack Obama, is “gutting” the military. The candidates all talk about having fewer ships, fewer warplanes, fewer ground troops, fewer this and that. We’re defenseless, they suggest, in the face of growing threats around the world.

Well, as President Obama told 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney four years ago during a debate, “We have fewer horses and bayonets today” than before, but that doesn’t make us weaker.

To call the USS Gerald Ford a formidable weapon is to commit gross understatement.

More than two decades ago I had the honor of touring another nuclear-powered attack aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson. I was assigned by the paper where I worked to cover a tour of the ship by the late U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, who invited me to join his delegation. My boss agreed, the paper flew me to San Diego to join Wilson and his delegation for a four-day tour of the Carl Vinson, which was cruising off the California coast.

We saw some amazing displays of skill and professionalism by the deck crews, the combat information center team and, of course, the Navy and Marine pilots.

The skipper, Capt. John Payne, took us on a tour of the flight deck and informed us of this interesting tidbit: A single carrier battle group comprising the aircraft carrier and its normal complement of cruisers, destroyers, frigates and smaller craft, packed as much firepower as all the ordnance dropped in all the combat theaters of World War II.

OK, so we don’t have as many ships as we’ve had, or as many airplanes or ground troops. Does that mean we haven’t invested a lot of money in the defense of this nation? Hardly.

I believe it was President Obama who recently noted that the annual U.S. defense budget is greater than the combined budgets of the next seven nations.

No, folks, we aren’t disarming ourselves.

Thirteen billion dollars for a single aircraft carrier makes me feel pretty damn safe.

 

Trump channels late Texas congressman … more or less

Donald_Trump_hair

Donald Trump said recently that he intends to respond to negative attacks and added — somewhat incredulously, in my view — that he’s not one to initiate a negative campaign.

Interesting, yes? Well, I think so.

He’s been pretty darn negative ever since he announced his Republican presidential candidacy.

He took it to a new level when he said that likely Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, has demonstrated a worse record regarding women that Trump has.

Hillary Clinton had accused Trump of being hyper-sexist in his outlook toward women. So, Trump decided to bring up President Clinton’s relationship with a young White House intern.  He vows to make an example of the former president.

Well, my thoughts turned to a former Texas congressman I used to know quite well. The late Democratic U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson used to say much the same thing about negative campaigning. He once told me he’d never start a negative campaign, but would be always be prepared to respond if an opponent decided to get nasty.

A candidate once did get quite nasty during the 1992 campaign, criticizing Wilson’s lifestyle — including his self-acknowledged affection for attractive women. She aired TV ads while running against Wilson for the East Texas congressional district he’d represented since 1973. The ads were highly critical of Wilson’s “Good Time Charlie” reputation.

What happened next remains a bit of a mystery. An audiotape showed up at the newspaper where I worked at the time; it contained a heated — and profanity-laced — conversation between the Republican challenger and her married campaign treasurer. The two of them discussed their own extramarital affair, with the candidate demanding that her lover leave his wife for her.

I suppose I should mention that Wilson’s opponent had portrayed herself as a deeply religious candidate who ran on what used to be called “family values.”

Wilson, who at the time served on the House Select Intelligence Committee, denied having anything to do with the tape. I couldn’t prove otherwise.

The difference between that example and the one that Trump is threatening to use is that the candidate who challenged Wilson was an active politician, while the former president that Trump threatens to drag into the campaign hasn’t been a full-time politician since his presidency ended in January 2001.

Somehow, I believe Charlie Wilson would laugh at what Trump is pledging to do to a potential political rival.

Carrier headed to Persian Gulf

Here we go.

The United States has just dispatched a nuclear-powered attack aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush — one of the newest ships in the fleet — to the Persian Gulf.

Its mission is to protect Americans who might be put in harm’s way in the fighting that threatens to engulf Iraq.

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/iraq-turmoil/u-s-aircraft-carrier-ordered-persian-gulf-wake-iraq-unrest-n131256

This is a most interesting development.

Just so everyone is in the know, the George H.W. Bush is packing an immense amount of firepower.

I had the honor about two decades ago of spending a few nights aboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, another of the Navy’s premier attack carriers. I was there to cover a tour led by the late U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, D-Lufkin, who wanted to tour the ship, buck up the sailors and Marines aboard and tell them how proud he was of the service they perform for the country.

The Carl Vinson, I hasten to add, was the ship where they took Osama bin Laden’s body in May 2011; he then was “buried at sea,” reportedly in a respectful manner.

But to the point. The commanding officer of the Carl Vinson at the time was Capt. John Payne and he told us about the incredible amount of ordnance those ships pack while they’re deployed. I, of course, asked the obvious question: “Skipper, are you carrying any nukes?” He answered the only way he could: “You know I can’t answer that.” He had the slightest smile on his face as he replied.

There remains immense conventional firepower on these ships.

The George H.W. Bush is packing all of that — and perhaps even more, given that it is such a new ship.

This, I submit, is one of the “other options” President Obama is considering in response to the Iraq crisis. He has declared he won’t send ground troops back into Iraq. He hasn’t ruled out air strikes.

But with a massive warship headed straight into the war zone, my hunch is that we might be getting ready to unleash some of that firepower on the bad guys.

Stay tuned for the next act.

Obama kills it on 'Between Two Ferns'

A few conservatives, not all of them, need to find a sense of humor.

Some of them are criticizing President Obama — no surprise there — for appearing on a mock talk show with a comedian, Zach Galifianakis. “Between Two Ferns” aired recently on the Internet and it showed the president of the United States engaging in a bit of repartee one doesn’t usually see involving the commander in chief and the Leader of the Free World.

He took to this forum to sell the Affordable Care Act to young Americans who so far have been reluctant to sign up for the exchanges offered by the law.

Conservatives, though, have tweeted some messages about how FDR, Reagan, Ike, Truman or JFK never would do such a thing. This kind of stunt is beneath the office of the presidency, they say.

You know what? I could see The Gipper or JFK doing it. Maybe not Truman, Ike or FDR. President Reagan surely had a flair for the dramatic, given his movie career before he entered politics in the mid-1960s. And President Kennedy, you’ll recall, made presidential press conferences something of an art form during his 1,000 or so days in the White House.

I’m reminded of what the late great East Texas congressman, Charles Wilson, once said about those who criticized his well-known reputation as a lady’s man. He said his constituents were actually envious of his lifestyle. “They don’t want their congressman,” Wilson once was quoted as saying, “acting like a constipated hound dog.”

I see nothing wrong at all with my president showing a bit of his human — and humorous — side while discussing a serious national policy issue.

Lighten up out there.