Naval captain debriefs public on carrier deployment
Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07
When Former President George H.W. Bush entered the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center at the George H.W. Bush Library Tuesday night, a hush fell over the room. The former president, his wife and military personal gathered in the conference center, awaiting the arrival of Capt. Brian "Lex" Luther, commanding officer of the USS George H.W. Bush, and his public debriefing of the aircraft carrier's first combat deployment.
The carrier was named after President George H.W. Bush as a testament to the beacon of hope and freedom that Bush's presidency was to the rest of the world, President of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation Roman Popadiuk said. Luther took a quote from the ship's namesake's inaugural speech to set the tone of the maiden voyage: "We know what's right — freedom's right. We know what works — freedom works."
The former president was present when the ship set to sea on May 11, 2011, and issued a challenge to the members of the crew. At the time, the president impressed upon the sailors that this maiden voyage was an opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the ship's life as a part of the U.S. naval fleet. The captain personally accepted this challenge by telling his crew "how we do it is written in this voyage."
The ship has many purposes in maritime strategy. Luther said the size and capabilities of the ship allow it to be a forward presence and reassure allies simply by going into specific ports. The ship's ability to be used as a means of deterrence was illustrated in that its presence could calm elevated situations. The ship's operations also included exercises with the British naval fleet and training the Spanish naval operators as that country tries to regain its naval presence.
USS George H. W. Bush and her crew fulfilled the power projection aspect of maritime strategy, or the crew's ability to apply all or some of its elements of power, by participating in Operation New Dawn and supporting troops in Iraq. The crew was also involved in Operation Enduring Freedom by supporting the troops in Afghanistan from off the coast of Pakistan.
Luther described the ship as a city at sea being that it housed 5,000 people during its seven-month deployment. The carrier also boasted a post office, its own TV station, chapel and even a Starbucks. The emphasis on sailors' quality of life was immediately apparent as Command Master Chief David Colton described part of what the ship offers to make the day-to-day living easier for those onboard.
"My sailors drink Starbucks coffee, and we have made it to where [the] sailors are now offered Facebook. We are doing everything we can to improve their quality of life," Colton said.
Captain Luther further iterated the importance placed on the sailors' quality of life by detailing the liberty calls allowed each sailor, as well as opportunities for fun while still out in the open sea. Activities such as the steel beach day, which involved jumping into the ocean from the deck, as well as a concert put on by a few Texas country singers, helped keep the morale high.
"You have to remember that we have an all-volunteer navy. Every sailor is sacrificing something to be in the navy. What we are doing is trying to recognize the sacrifices they're making in serving their country. And yet, at some point, they need a break.
[These sailors] are here to work, but they want that recognized, and that's what we're trying to do."
The dedication to crew-wide morale had very impressive results; the ship was honored with every departmental award that could be given for a maiden voyage, including the highest medical readiness of any ship in the U.S. naval fleet. Senior Medical Officer Kim Toone expressed her amazement at the ship's operations, as well as her own journey from being an undergraduate at the University of Florida.
"[During drills,] I turned to my fellow officer, and said, ‘how did I get here?' To this day, I still wonder at it all," Toone said.
Looking back at the accomplishments of the deployment, Luther said what the experience meant to him.
"It has been an honor and a privilege. The ship is a technological marvel, but the true treasures are the sons and daughters of America [that served aboard the carrier]. It has been an honor to be their commanding officer … I think we've written quite the chapter for the first operational deployment of the carrier."