There are times in life when you look around and realize you are in the middle of something special. That happened last week when six cartoonists became the last USO entertainment group to visit the storied USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65). She is in the final stages of her last deployment, destined to leave active service and become a part of history in just a few months.
You would never know it if you saw her in action.
An aging ship is supposed to have morale problems. She is supposed to show her age. Things aren’t supposed to work. ENTERPRISE is over fifty years old – the oldest active ship in the Navy since 2009 – but she operates like a ship on her maiden voyage.
She is old enough that some of her spare parts have to be manufactured on board, but her machinery repair shop takes pride in its ability to create the complex parts to keep the gear working.
We expected a ship in disrepair; what we saw was a ship ready to fight.
The thing that stunned me, however, was the morale of the crew. They began their second and current deployment only a few months after returning from the first, but we saw few frowns and heard nary a complaint. The thousands of Sailors and Marines met us with smiles and a quiet confidence that seems to come from knowing they are among the best the nation has to offer. The affection for their Commanding Officer was palpable. Even the most junior Sailors expressed admiration for the Captain and what he meant to them. The Strike Group Commander has already set a record for numbers of traps. The excellence begins at the top and is reflected throughout the crew.
I met a Sailor who worked in the scullery washing dirty dishes. I expected bitterness (“This isn’t why I joined the Navy”), but got none. He understood that he had a role in the overall operation of the massive carrier. He wasn’t doing what he had been trained to do, but he understood why he was there. It was the most remarkable conversation I had all week.
The crew understands that it is a part of history, being charged with shepherding ENTERPRISE through her final voyage. When the crew members talk about it, there is a hint of sadness that the mighty vessel will one day be no more. But there is also a sense of purpose, reflecting their understanding that they, too, are in the middle of something special.
The men and women serving in the ENTERPRISE Strike Group are our heroes of the week.
And on a personal note, let me simply say thank you. You really are the best the nation has to offer.