Bloggers’ Embark Start-Up
It’s not just a blog; it’s an adventure.
Accompanying Guy Kawasaki and me for this adventure … a balance of ladies and gentlemen … Beth Blecherman, Bill Reichert, Charlene Li, Robert Scoble, Jennifer Lawson a.k.a. the bloggess, Andrew Nystrom, Pamela Slim, Andy Sernovitz, Jennifer Leo, Jefferson Wagner a.k.a. Zuma Jay, Jennifer Van Grove, Jennifer Jones, and Carroll LeFon a.k.a. Lex. Chris Pirillo followed us out during June 1-2, 2009, again to the USS Chester W. Nimitz (CVN-68).
Collectively, as a population of Americans, our US Navy ships are floating, underway homes … extensions of our homeland … for our loved ones both Navy and Marines. You do not need to have a child, a parent, a grandparent, relative, or friend directly serving aboard a Navy ship or a land-based installation to come to compassionately either love or really, really like our Navy community serving to protect all of us. A few hours aboard ship underway is more than enough time to draw the conclusion that Navy people are good people … real salt of the earth folks.
If there is a special person in your life who is serving, please know that our Navy is providing well for them, and they are in friendly, supportive company.
The past two decades have seen incredible technological, cultural, and occupational progress in our seven US military services. For example, women and men now serve side by side aboard Navy ships underway, including as pilots and other members of flightcrews. Among the current frontiers, in my opinion, is social media. The Navy commonly now uses Twitter tweets, and blog postings for individual ship’s and leaders are underway and soon will be mainstream. Yet, awareness of this progress could be advanced via blogging and podcasting illumination. Step in Guy Kawasaki – prolific blogger, American, author, and venture capitalist.
For the past year, I have learned about blogging in a focused fashion via my wife’s blog PassionateForLife.com/magazine. She taught me much, but it was the genesis of this Bloggers’ Embark that kicked me into gear to launch my own blogging career. I plan to expand into podcasting as well, plus other mediums, e.g. YouTube, etc. As Steve Forbes says in his Forbes magazine postings, ‘With all thy getting, get understanding’. Blogging certainly does allow one to gain new perspectives in unique way.
As part of my Avere Group volunteerism for community outreach, I nominate to all seven military services business and government leaders, civic leaders, artists, and authors to hopefully be selected for invitation to come out and see the military training first-hand. Over the years, I have developed a strong relationship particularly with the Navy, including the Navy Blue Angels.
Being acquainted with Guy Kawasaki and Bill Reichert through their being Managing Directors of Garage Technology Ventures and hosting as such their start-up strategies workshops in Silicon Valley, and Launch – Silicon Valley, I nominated both for Navy opportunities to go to sea. During September 2008, Guy found the bandwidth allowing him to partake in his flying by Navy C-2 Greyhound transport aircraft over the Pacific Ocean to and from the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-72) aircraft carrier. He returned to shore even more totally gung-ho about our Navy. From his start-up Alltop, he e-mailed me ‘an idea.’
Guy ventured to dream of how might the world be changed if a whole C-2 Greyhound full of bloggers and/or podcasters experienced first-hand life at sea aboard a Navy aircraft carrier steaming underway conducting naval air operations. Guy knows his own enthusiastic, supportive reaction having embarked prior during 2008 to the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) aircraft carrier. Yet, what dynamics would launch and fly from each of the fertile, creative, psychedelic minds of an eclectic group of bloggers and podcasters welded with the synergy of a bonding adventure. What if … what if … they departed their comfort zones along with all they know up to that point about themselves and other aspects and put themselves out there to experience one of the most quintessentially extraordinary environments available to only a relative handful of the seven billion people on earth. What would happen to these bloggers? How would they react? What would be their transformations? How would their readers react to their blogging and podcasting?
This realm of life at sea includes transportation to and from the carrier via C-2 Greyhound Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD), military occupational specialties (MOS), leadership, living quarters, mess decks and ward rooms, food prepared and served, internet connectivity, religious worship, medical clinics, postmortem memorials, and of course, the pilots’ ready rooms and flightdeck operations.
Guy and I met together during October 2008 along with Bill Reichert to discuss the idea further and compile a list of bloggers and podcasters. I then wrote and submitted the Bloggers’ Embark proposal to Lieutenant Commander Charlie Brown, Public Affairs Officer, Commander – Naval Air Forces – Pacific (COMNAVAIRPAC) based at Naval Air Station North Island on Coronado Island near San Diego, California.
Charlie Brown called me personally and enthusiastically approving the idea. Guy set about to coordinate with me the Bloggers’ Embark with the plan being that Guy himself would be at the helm, and I originally was to be a shore battery of publicity about the embark. As luck would have it, I actually got to participate, and hence launched my fledgling blogging career.
Lt. Commander Charlie Brown and Navy Petty Officer Steve Harbour established our embarkation for May 29-30, 2009 to the USS Chester W. Nimitz (CVN-68) aircraft carrier. Socially, therefore, he’s in a community of bloggers and podcasters representing diverse portfolios of genres … entrepreneurship … tech … parenting … romance … fashion … travel … communications. It did not take long for Guy to line up women bloggers and podcasters, and only a bit longer to find some courageous men. I had the pleasure of introducing myself via e-mail to each one and assisting them with getting their paperwork into the Navy, plus answering questions, and coordinating with the Navy bakery to create a birthday cake aboard the Nimitz, as three of the ladies in our group would celebrate their birthdays during the embark.
First up for the unforgettable, highly coveted, Distinguished Visitor adventure was a greeting inside the immaculate Navy headquarters of the Commander, Naval Air Forces – Pacific housed within a beautifully restored building that was once an operating lighthouse. Marine Corps Colonel Jim Jamison greeted the group, and then arrived Lt. Commander Charlie Brown. He absorbed unwavering attention while he projected slides punctuating key bullets of information. He spoke and referenced the slides on Naval Air Forces, Pacific Fleet, humanitarian relief, Carrier Strike Group Eleven, their mission, assets, current operations, and readiness, and Navy social media. He introduced specifically the group’s destination: the USS Chester W. Nimitz (CVN-68) nuclear aircraft carrier.
All distinguished visitors donned helmets with encapsulating hearing protection and reality-checking flotation-water survival vests. Outside of base operations on the tarmac, the plump, friendly C-2 Greyhound twin-turboprop transport taxied up to inhale its passengers and their luggage. The C-2 Greyhound CODs (Carrier Onboard Delivery), with their cadre of flightcrews get plenty of flighttime supporting roundtrip ship-to-shore transits of mail, parts, food, personnel, and distinguished visitors. Their flightsuits bear, among other patches, one for the US Postal Service, and a patch with the same logo design as the Greyhound bus line. Navy personnel escorted us out of base operations out into the cavernous passenger hold. They snugly strapped us into firm-fitting seats packed ‘like sardines’ facing the open tail ramp of their ‘COD’ for one last glimpse of tarmac terra firma. Up came the ramp-hatch, and so the embark was deemed a “Go!”
About a half hour after their noisy, vibrating take-off, while each in the group dozed, meditated, or prayed, the flight crew gently banked the C-2 Greyhound to line up with the football gridiron-size landing’s portion of the flight deck of the USS Nimitz with foaming wake wash offering welcome. At about the same time, there was the barely audible sound accompanying the continuous, yet hardly noticeable descent. The pilot had activated the arresting tailhook lowering it into the slipstream, and lowered the wings’ flaps to provide more slow-speed lift and controllability for the COD as the seconds ticked down to arrival. Down and locked, the tailhook hung braced for its violent collision with the innocent arresting cable slung as a thick strand baking under the tropical sun, perpendicular across the stern’s flight deck. Then … virtually without announcement for time to brace … ‘Clunk!!!’ Simultaneously the pilot cycled the engines’ throttles up to full thrusting power for life preserving lift should the pilot have missed the arresting cable and needed to bolt again for the sky. Then rapid braking as the tailhook grabbed the thick-cross-deck cable and brought the aircraft to an abrupt, but controlled stop as the cable unwound from its spindles just below deck. I felt like my whole body inflated four-fold! Like a pufferfish.
The ‘trap’ overwhelmed everyone’s psyche by a dosage of adrenaline, yet euphoria, but no time to ruminate on what just happened. The rear ramp hatch lowered to flood in visual overload of an environ of the aircraft carrier unbeknownst to the passengers except maybe through watching the movie “Top Gun” or the television shows “NCIS” or “JAG”. Over the course of the next 24 hours, life was far different for all from that which they left back at their offices, communities, and homes.
Following an introduction to great Navy chow in a buffet mess deck. With everyone squared away, the order of the day was to spend about four hours of continual tours throughout the ship involving climbing and descending stairwells and ladders and walking, walking, walking. The only elevators to be found were huge, as in as big as a contemporary house, and meant for carrying major loads of freight or aircraft, for example an entire EA-6B Prowler aircraft from the maintenance shop up to the flight deck for parking or launch. All the way in route to the next stop, the distinguished visitors saw Navy personnel in the passageways or adjoining rooms and offices. The personnel were very polite and exuded kindness and warmth. What resonates with me is the true passion exuded by ALL of the members of the crew. It was very evident to me that the men and women truly love what they do, and give their all towards their individual and collective missions. It was truly an honor for me to experience a taste of their everyday reality.
The ship normally operates as the centerpiece of a Carrier Strike Group consisting of four to six other ships. Aircraft attached include the following: the F/A-18 Hornet, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-6B Prowler, E-2C Hawkeye, and MH-60S Seahawk. The Air Wing can destroy enemy aircraft, ships, submarines, and land targets, or lay mines hundreds of miles from the ship. The aircraft can conduct strikes, support land battles, protect the Strike Group or other friendly shipping, and implement a sea or air blockade. The Air Wing provides a visible presence to demonstrate American power and resolve in a crisis.
We all saw the key centers on the ship during normal shore business hours, but also during night operations when passageways, rooms, etceteras are illuminated with surreal red, blue and yellow lights. Focus of the tours included the following: chapels; bridge and its Air Boss station; flight deck; Vultures’ Row view of the flightdeck operations; fantail or stern; the ship’s propulsion center with its two nuclear reactors and propeller drive shafts; combat center; hangar bay; ordnance depot; catapult operations; medical center; dental clinic; food galleys; bakery; dining mess decks; shopping mall; post office; internet-access center; ward room; surface-to-air missile systems; the Phalanx close-in 20 mm gun for cruise missile defense; anchor room; flight briefing rooms; the sleeping quarters; recreational centers; gyms; and library. The ship draws every source of electrical energy from the nuclear reactors used primarily for clean propulsion power lasting decades without refueling. An added bonus for this embark was inclusion of a tour of the ship’s detention center, or brig.
The Navy escorts provided protective vests, helmets, and ear protection to the distinguished visitors to allow them to get up close to the stern’s landing zone of the flight deck as F-18 Hornet jets and turboprop C-2 Greyhound, and E-2C Hawkeye aircraft quickly come down the glide path and ‘trap’ the arresting cable right in front of them, literally only a dozen yards from where they are standing. Everyone glanced skyward and saw two-ship formations of F-18 Super Hornets making low passes over the aircraft carrier and then pitching out to prepare for their landings, or a solo EA-6B, for example, coming over to prepare for its landing.
Following dinner, everyone including the Navy escorts visited Vultures’ Row, an open-air passageway near the bridge that overlooks the flight deck. A night operation unfolded with aircraft landing and sparks flying as the tailhooks scrape the deck and frictionally heat the cables during the ‘trap’. Then after some calm, the bow area came alive with jets moving into position to attach to the catapults for bow launches up into the night sky. The jets and turboprop aircraft move through paces of preflight check with strobe lights pulsing while flight crews cycle the control surfaces. F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets might have launched first, followed then by an EA-6B Prowler for electronic countermeasures jamming support, and then an E-2 twin-turbo prop Airborne Warning and Control aircraft to fly high over the Carrier Air Group to provide a radar umbrella of proactive operating area surveillance.
The second morning involved packing for the trip home, breakfast and a few more tours and briefings. A popular stop is the bridge, and each distinguished visitor took a turn sitting in the Commanding Officer’s chair embroidered Old Salt. They watched the crew steer the ship and navigate its way toward the global position where they all would later that day be catapulted off the bow aboard the C-2 COD.
Following lunch, it was time to don the helmets and vests again before boarding the awaiting C-2 to take them home. Upon boarding and strapping in, the C-2 rolled on the flightdeck to one of the four catapults for the “cat shot”. The catapult uses a steam-powered piston device with attachment points for the C-2 that fires down a track and releases the aircraft at the end. With the aid of relative wind blowing down this runway as the ship cruises at around 22 knots, the COD achieves aerodynamic flight sustained by the C-2’s twin turboprop engines. The distinguished visitors watched C-2s get catapulted during their visits to the flight deck, the bridge, and Vulture’s Row, so by the time it was their turn for a “cat shot” they instinctively knew the sequence and timing of the endeavor. The pilot advanced throttles to full power, and then suddenly a major jolt and everyone was shoved into their restraint harnesses and then a loud “snap!” is heard as the C-2 is set free to fly under her own power. Everyone catches their breath and exclaims excitedly ‘Ohhh yeahhhh!’ once the g-loading releases and you’re climbing away!
Upon return to NAS North Island, Lieutenant Commander Charlie Brown greeted us, and then presented us our Nimitz Tailhooker certificate. It reads as such …
Know all ye by these presents that
a fearless and intrepid birdman has exhibited faultless courage, exceptional bravery, NAFOD (No Apparent Fear of Death) and intestinal fortitude in examining the entire spectrum of air approach parameters while successfully completing an arrested landing aboard USS NIMITZ (CVN-68) with less than mortal injury. For this feat they shall be recognized as a
and accorded the honor and all consideration and privileges due such title.
Captain, US Navy
29 May 2009
As we had arrived back to shore during the middle of the afternoon of Saturday, May 30, many of us had to get a move on to the San Diego airport. This was one of those moments we experience rarely in life. We had all come together less than 45 hours earlier, had welded our bonds through an incredible, extraordinary endeavor, but now had to sever to return to distant points on the globe. For me, it was emotionally wrenching. I sat in my rental car and waved to each batch of departing carloads. Ultimately I was just sitting there alone for a few moments, and the silence and solitary presence were suddenly awkward. What a phenomenal group of people including everyone we met via and in the Navy.