Tag Archives: USS Carl Vinson

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.

Has the dictator gone MAD?

Kim Jong Un certainly must know why they called it “mutually assured destruction” back during the Cold War.

Surely he understands that MAD means what it assures, that anyone who launches a nuclear missile at a nuclear power is going to get wiped off the face of the planet.

The MAD policy prevented a nuclear holocaust when the world comprised just two superpowers. U.S. presidents and Soviet dictators knew the consequences of such foolishness.

But … here we are. The North Korean dictator/fruitcake/goofball keeps¬†making some, oh, so very provocative¬†statements about how he would respond to U.S. attempts to prevent him from developing a nuclear-strike capability.

Kim Jong Un said he would launch a missile at the USS Carl Vinson carrier battle group that is steaming (finally!) toward the Korean Peninsula. He keeps arguing that his nukes are for “defensive purposes only,” meant to deter some perceived aggression from South Korea.

It’s all just so much MADness coming out of the mouth of the son and grandson of two prior North Korean dictators.

This brings me to my point. All the bluster and bravado that pours out of Kim Jong Un’s pie hole cannot actually mean he would he do what he says he would do. Or can it?

Military rivalries are nothing to trifle with. I recall vividly a statement I received from a Taiwanese government official with whom I was discussing the tense standoff that exists between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.

The PRC has long threatened to use military force to “take back” the island nation formed in 1949 at the end of a bloody civil war on the Chinese mainland. Would the PRC actually risk nuclear confrontation with the United States, which has a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan?

The Taiwanese official said his government takes any threat from China “very seriously” and was prepared to respond accordingly.

So should the United States be prepared to respond to the rantings of the North Korean MADman.

They call it “MAD” for a damn good reason, Mr. Dictator.

Trump’s big mouth threatens to swallow him

That dreaded 100-day “deadline” looms for Donald John Trump. We’re about one week away from it.

Will it produce a winning report card for the president? Will those of us in the peanut gallery be able to call the new president’s start a rousing success, which Trump himself has done already?

I do not believe so.

Does the 100-day mark matter? Perhaps it shouldn’t count as much as it does. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set up this artificial barrier when he took office in 1933 and it’s been held as sort of the benchmark for early presidential success ever since.

But it’s early in any new president’s term. Donald Trump is no different.

Except for one little thing.

All along the way en route to his winning the election, the Republican candidate for president kept telling us about all the things he would accomplish in those first 100 days.

* Affordable Care Act? Repealed and replaced.

* Tax reform? Enacted.

* Draining the swamp of corruption? He’d institute a new government ethic.

What’s happened? The ACA remains. Tax reform hasn’t even been introduced. The swamp is still full.

The president can count precious few legislative triumphs. In fact, I can’t think of any. Can you? He’s signed a lot of executive orders. I particularly like the one that banned government officials from¬†becoming lobbyists immediately after leaving public service.

Sure, he launched that missile strike against Syria after that horrendous chemical weapons attack. I give the president kudos for that action. But he’s got North Korea sounding more threatening than ever; Trump said he dispatched the “great armada” led by the USS Carl Vinson, but the carrier-led strike group to date is nowhere near the Korean Peninsula.

Donald Trump’s very own big mouth has victimized him.

Just maybe once the president gets past this 100-day hurdle,¬†he will decide to tone down his constant boastfulness and learn finally — finally! — that governance requires much more than shooting off one’s big mouth.

USS Carl Vinson isn’t MIA, however …

Where, oh where, is the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier thought to be heading toward the Korean Peninsula?

Not so fast, mates. The massive ship and¬†the warships comprising its¬†battle group¬†aren’t exactly en route to the trouble spot.

This brings to mind yet another question about the commander in chief: Does the president know about which he speaks when it concerns the most powerful military apparatus the world has known?

Donald J. Trump told Fox News business correspondent Maria Bartiromo that the Vinson group, which he described as a “great armada,” was on its way to the region in a massive show of force against North Korean communist dictator/madman/goofball Kim Jong Un.

Except that it wasn’t.

The USS Carl Vinson was headed toward the Indian Ocean to perform military exercises with the Australian navy.

The U.S. Navy doesn’t comment on the precise location of its warships, so don’t expect the Pentagon to blow the Carl Vinson’s cover. This does illustrate nevertheless that the president once again has blabbed before knowing the facts.

You want unpredictability? This is it.

Trump has said he is determined to be as “unpredictable” as possible as it regards our adversaries. He doesn’t want to telegraph his next move, particularly when it regards potential military action.

The president says every option “is on the table” regarding Kim Jong Un. Fine. I get it.

Unpredictability, though, shouldn’t include hearing the president declare that a heavily armed naval strike force is steaming toward harm’s way when it in fact is moving in the opposite direction.

Or, has the president offered¬†the world¬†yet another definition of the word “is”?

Enter the USS Carl Vinson


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.

Full-time blogging is just so much fun


This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

I feel compelled to give you an update on the status of this blog.

I call it High Plains Blogger because that’s where I live: on the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle; the Llano Estacado; or what I call — with great affection, of course — the Texas Tundra.

I created it in 2012 after leaving a career in daily print journalism. The end of that career came rather quickly. It wasn’t how I envisioned a nearly 37-year career would end. I’ve told folks for years now that all I wanted was a going-away party, with a sheet cake and frosting that had a message wishing well and thanking me for a job well done.

It didn’t happen that way … but what the hey, that’s life, man.

I created this blog and was able to transfer a lot of the blogging I’d done at the Amarillo Globe-News into High Plains Blogger’s archives.

My traffic of late has shown tremendous growth. Indeed, over the lifetime of High Plains Blogger my daily “hits” — which include page views and something called “unique visitors” — has increased about five-fold.


It’s not where I want it just yet, but it’s creeping its way toward a more acceptable level. I don’t have an end point. I haven’t said, “When it gets to a certain level, I think I’ll¬†cap it right there.” Oh, no. You can’t have too many readers, too many followers, too many people willing to offer comment.

My intention is to keep self-promoting whenever I feel it is appropriate. Today seems like an appropriate time to call attention to this blog.

Full-time blogging is far more fun than I ever imagined it would be. Yes, I enjoyed writing for The Man. I did it for nearly four decades. I enjoyed some success. I had a hiccup or two along the way.

All told, it was a career made more fun by the people I have encountered along the way and some of the amazing things I was able to do: Flying over an erupting volcano in March 1980 on a picture-taking mission was one of them; landing on the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in 1993, the USS Carl Vinson, and then being catapulted off the deck is another.

Blogging, though, is a new career I intend to pursue for as long as I can as I enter full-time retirement. You see, this full-time blogging pursuit is something that co-exists quite nicely with full-time retirement. Neither title — blogger and retiree — is mutually exclusive.

So, with that, I say “thank you” to those who read this blog regularly and to those who have offered comment. Yes, I even want to thank the critics. You know who you are. I try my best not to take it personally, as long as the criticism doesn’t call me nasty names.

Let’s enjoy the ride for as long as we can.

USS Gerald Ford: no sign of disarmament there

gerald ford

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.


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.


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.

Politics might keep Hasan alive

U.S. Army officials are pondering whether a military court should sentence Nidal Hasan to death or life in prison for the 2011 murder of 13 people in that horrific Fort Hood massacre.

I’ve declared already my desire to sentence Hasan to life. A death sentence would give the Army major his wish, to be martyred as a practicing Muslim.


The military hasn’t executed anyone since 1961, when it hanged an Army private first class for the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl. Seems the military has trouble carrying out death sentences because, as NBC reports, the high command gets cold feet.

Politics will play a big part in Hasan’s sentence. He killed those people at Fort Hood to protest U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan.

Think for a moment of what would happen if the U.S. executes Hasan.

Fellow Muslim extremists around the world would shout praises to Allah for his death. They would declare it as some sort of moral victory over the Great Satan. They would hail Hasan as a hero; he won’t hear the cheers, but they wouldn’t be for his ears.

I keep thinking back to when U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden in that daring May 2011 raid in Pakistan. They took his body quickly out of the compound, flew his corpse offshore to the Navy nuclear aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. Then they conducted a brief ceremony and tossed bin Laden’s remains into the Indian Ocean. They had this plan all worked out in advance of the order to launch the raid and kill bin Laden.

Why did they do it? To prevent the creation of a shrine for Islamic extremists to worship their terrorist hero.

Keeping Nidal Hasan among the living would accomplish the same thing.