Most of what I know about Naval Aviation I owe to one man: Carroll LeFon.
I certainly knew about catapults and traps – although I didn’t know they were called traps. But Lex had vicariously “put” me on a carrier these last few years. Lex’s love of the Navy – hardships and all, came through in his writing.
I recently read this review in Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine, and enjoyed the excerpt enough to order the book.
At the same time, I wondered how I could learn more from this book than I have from Lex. I haven’t learned more but at the same time Dyer has given me more of a feeling of what it is like to be on a Nimitz class carrier.
Lex said in a post that how was proud of all the young people that really run the carrier. I have learned from Dyer that the average age is 22 – and that is counting all of the career NCOs and officers.
And I learned that all of the crew – work very hard. Even the Captain is lucky to get 5 hours of sleep a night. We are taken on a tour through the carrier talking with everyone from the medical officer ( a lot of injuries are crushed toes) to the dentist (who gives Dyer a complimentary cleaning) – the ordnance people, cooks, the pilots (where I do believe one’s call sign isn’t usually “earned” by something good the recipient did, but rather something foolish).
I learned that there is one room in the catapult area that remains at 110F – and some of the young crew work up to 16 hours a day there.
That most of the work rules on this boat are “written in blood” – the result of learning from accidents in the past. In the 1990s a flight deck crewman had his head decapitated by the leading edge of a jet because…the plane was launched prematurely. And the Navy learned from this accident and changed the choreography around the planes on the flight deck.
So how would I rate this book?
It could have been great.
A recurring theme through this book is the author’s complaining about the food and his accommodations.
He learns that along with his photographer and the Ensign who is assigned as his liaison, he is berthed with 3 other Navy officers.
And he doesn’t like that.
He is actually proud of the fact that he “beat” the U.S. Navy by getting an assignment to the “Vice Presidential” room. But the Navy has the last laugh as this room is right under the flight deck while the original room is a bit quieter 2 decks down.
And he doesn’t like the food, calling it “slop”. Even tries the Ward Room, reserved for the officers.
I have learned through my Lexican contacts that most carriers at some point in their deployment have a “steel beach day” – that is, an informal day where every hard working crewman, from the Captain on down, dress informally and have a BBQ on the flight deck. It is the one day during deployment they can actually relax.
One can imagine how most look forward to this day after months of hard and tiring work at sea.
While Dyer talks with the crew he dislikes the steak given calling it a hunk of meat (or something similar). One would think that even that being the case, he would keep it to himself and not disparage the efforts of others trying to make this a happy day.
I got the feeling that while Dyer talked with the crew he really didn’t want to try and be part of them. He claimed that he needed his own quarters because he needed to work on his book. He probably could have asked a Petty Officer or Lieutenant how they do their paperwork after a long day. Any one of which would have been glad to tell him.
All of the Navy personnel – from the Captain on down – really made Geoff feel welcome. We learn that in the narrow passageways all of the Navy personnel, because of his being a civilian, “made way” for him to come through first. They were, to a man and woman, cordial and courteous to him.
Perhaps I am dwelling too much on this as he really did a good job in describing so many of the carrier operations.
But then I remember reading one of Lex’s posts, when he is near retiring from the Navy. He is either a Captain or a Commander and is berthed with a Marine Lt Col on an exercise. I remember his talking repeatedly about the “demands of the service”.
This is the Navy that was his life.
The crew of the George H.W. Bush deserved someone who would give as much back to them as they gave to him.
Who would try to live on board as they live.
And wouldn’t complain.
Had he given more this would have been a great book.