About two weeks ago, I enjoyed a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The Department of Defense, through the U.S. Navy, operates a "Leaders to Sea" program; an initiative providing business leaders with an opportunity to experience, first-hand, our military in action.
Coordinated by Chief David McBride, the day started early; 0645 hours; with a group meeting at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, CA. There, we enjoyed a Q/A with Captain Tom Copeman (Chief of Staff for the Commander of Naval Surface Forces) and Commander Joe Navratil, Surface Forces Public Affairs Officer.
After about an hour of informative discussion on topics ranging from asset operations to local housing, our group of 7 was driven to Naval Air Station North Island for SH-60 Seahawk helicopter transport. A flight crew of 3 met us at the air terminal, helped us with our flotation and safety gear, then strapped us in for a 30-minute chopper ride to the U.S.S. Higgins; a guided missile destroyer commissioned in 1999. From the moment we boarded the helicopter, any pre-trip anxiety that stirred inside of me was immediately replaced by calm and confidence in these professional and impressive pilots and crew. I just hoped that I could remember how to appropriately pull my floatation cords in case of a "water landing."
Our SH-60 Seahawk flew over the Pacific Ocean (at several hundred feet altitude) and landed on the Higgins about 30 miles out to sea. Higgins Commander Jesse Wilson and his crew rolled out the red carpet for us and immediately made us feel welcome. Officers, enlisted, and civilian personnel, candidly spoke to our group and answered questions with a contagious spirit of pride throughout the tour. It was obvious that the entire crew-from Cmdr. Wilson all the way down to the twenty-something deck-hands-were genuinely proud and excited to be serving our country. Frankly, their dedication, sacrifice, and achievements, made my business pursuits and accomplishments seem insignificant in comparison.
Highlights of the day included: a tasty BBQ chicken lunch with Cmdr. Wilson and other officers in the Officers' Lounge; a detailed, 30-minute, tour of the ship's high tech "war room"; a sit down meet & greet with several enlisted crew members; and an up-close Bridge view of the U.S.S. Nimitz (a nuclear powered aircraft carrier) plowing through the Pacific seas in excess of 30mph.
I wish everyone could experience one of these tours. Spending a day beside our Nation's true heroes elicits an abundance of emotions, not the least of which include immense gratitude, tremendous pride, and impassioned admiration.
To all of our service men and women, thank you.