“Oh my gosh, it was amazing.”
Monroe County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron gushed about her experience aboard the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier this past week.
Her experience included a tailhook landing and the rush of being catapulted back into the sky after her 24 hours aboard.
Coldiron and Monroe County planner Cheryl Cioffari were guests of the U.S. Navy Distinguished Visitor Embark, a program designed to place key leaders from all sectors of society — corporate, civic, government, education, non-profit and service — aboard a deployed carrier to experience first-hand how sailors and the Navy contribute to the stability of the country and the global community.
Aboard, they made their “Keys connection.”
Captain David Snowden, a Tavernier native and graduate of Coral Shores High School, is the executive officer aboard the USS Truman. That means he’s second in charge aboard, enforcing the CO’s guidelines and ensuring that daily ship operations run smoothly.
Captain Robert “Fitz” Gentry is commander of Carrier Air Wing One — directly responsible for operation and administrative control and the warfighting capability of the air wing. Gentry’s dad was a well-known football coach at Marathon High School, Coldiron said. (Gentry recently replaced Captain Brent Blackmeyer, who was removed from the post in March over unspecified misconduct and relegated to a desk.)
The USS Truman is 1,092 feet long, 257 feet wide and is as high as a 24-story building. It uses nuclear reactors for propulsion, meaning the ship can go 3 million miles before refueling. The Nimitz Class carriers have a contingent of 6,000 aboard, including crew and aircrew, and can accommodate up to 90 aircraft on a flight deck that is almost 5 acres.
“It’s a floating city,” Coldiron said. “They took us through every part of the ship.”
The group, which also included representatives from Sen. Marco Rubio’s office, a circuit court judge from Jacksonville, and a president of a Florida university, toured the supply warehouse, the onboard dentist office, the machine shop used to make replacement parts while underway, and even the “jet shop.”
“They have engineers onboard who know how to fix every part of the aircraft,” Coldiron said.
The civilian contingent was flown out to the aircraft carrier from Jacksonville aboard a C-2 Greyhound Carrier Onboard Delivery aircraft, or COD.
“The tailhook landing was, um, very riveting. You’re strapped into a bare bones metal chair, facing backwards,” said Coldiron, laughing. “The jerk when you land — going from 180 mph to 0 mph in less than three seconds … I almost did a somersault over the back of the chair.” Coldiron may, or may not, have screamed just a little.
It was a thrilling experience, she said, and made a huge impact on her about how important the air station is to the Navy, and to the Keys.