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By Staff | Jun 12, 2009

The man behind me on the escalator as I moved between terminals at O’Hare airport in Chicago, noted my hat with U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt printed on the crown calling out to ask me if I had been on “The Big Stick.”

Theodore Roosevelt advised to speak softly and carry a big stick as diplomacy. The USS Theodore Roosevelt is the blunt end of that admonition.

I immediately recognized the man behind the question, Carl Rove, on the escalator, answering him that my wife and I were traveling to Norfolk, Va., to board the aircraft carrier the next day. I explained that I was a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, which among other things, supports the crew of the ship, and that the captain of the Roosevelt had invited the association’s members to join the family cruise. He told me that he too was a TRA member.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt recently completed an eight-month tour of duty in the North Arabian Sea, providing close-in air support to U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ship’s captain, Ladd Wheeler, addressed the Theodore Roosevelt Association banquet the night before the cruise, telling us they had reduced the response time from when a call for air support is made until delivered to 5 minutes. He assured us that more American personnel were coming home safely as a direct result of the Roosevelt and that a lot of Taliban were not.

When a carrier comes back from an extended tour of duty, the U.S. Navy hosts a family cruise where the crew can invite family members aboard for a day at sea to experience their life on board ship.

Approximately 800 TRA members were invited to join the crew as part of their family. We met Seaman Nancy from Buffalo, New York. She was part of the catapult crew and had done two extended tours of duty on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and one on the USS Eisenhower.

She told us that the ship’s crew was about 3,000, including 800 women. With their full air wing aboard, Navy Seals and full contingent, the ship’s population could exceed 5,000.

The Roosevelt had disembarked its air wing, unloaded its jet fuel and munitions and it had lightened the ship enough that it had risen 4 1/2 feet in the water. We boarded the ship at dawn and watched it cast off as the crew hosted breakfast in the hanger bay, which had been turned into a huge mess hall complete with bands and festivities for the children.

They served food all day long. We were free to explore the ship. Crew members acting as guides took small groups throughout the vessel.

I got to meet Seaman Capps from Indianola in the air traffic control center. He expects to be a chief petty officer soon. He explained how they track nearby aircraft and pointed out aircraft to us on the radar screen. He keeps the fighters 1 1/2 miles apart. I asked him about deploying Seal teams and he said that they tracked them, but the teams don’t squawk a signal. They come and go anonymously.

I got to meet LT/JG Lovell on the bridge. He was also from Indianola, which is certainly doing its share of providing crew to the Roosevelt. He showed us how we were making 19 knots. He said the ship could cruise at over 30 knots and could pull skiers, although no one had tried it.

The highlight of the day was gathering with nearly 3,000 people on the flight deck on bleachers as an F-18 Super Hornet was recovered and then shot off the deck right in front of our eyes. Planes don’t land on a carrier as much as they are literally captured from the air.

We had been given a tour of both the flight arresting and catapult systems and it was amazing to see how smoothly they operated. I was surprised at how hot the fighter landed . . . literally right on top of us.

He had to stay “hot” because if he had missed the arresting cable, he had to keep going. I was not 20 yards behind a yellow caution tape and the fighter’s wingtip as it wrenched to a stop. No hats can be worn for fear of getting sucked into the engines and the jet blast fumes set the mood.

The Hornet turned around, taxied to the catapult, not 40 yards away, hooked up, they raised the blast deflector and after a short equipment check, the catapult crew signaled to launch and he was shot off the deck, reaching 150 mph in two seconds. He banked away from the ship, landing from the stern and was shot off 8 times before breaking the sound barrier as he departed for the base at the Norfolk Naval Air Station.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt was commissioned in 1986, went back into drydock for a year in the late 1990s. The T.R. has launched combat missions on every tour of duty so that the captain said that members of Congress track its location because it tells them where the next fight was going to be.

This family cruise was the last day at sea for the Roosevelt as it was again going into drydock for a complete refitting and would be relaunched in 2012.

Theodore Roosevelt would be very proud of the naval legacy he left behind. As a member of TRA, I’m very proud to support his ship and crew.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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