Serving on the High Seas: 21 News visits the aircraft carrier USS George Washington
As part of the U.S. Navy's Sailor for a Day program, 21 News Anchor Derek Steyer got the rare opportunity to fly out and stay on an aircraft carrier at sea.
Aircraft Carriers are the backbone of the U.S. Navy, a floating airbase with a wide range of combat capabilities.
"Up until World War II, ships fought by seeing each other, it was in World War II that we finally had engagements where the ships never saw each other," Captain Dave Hecht, a Public Affairs Officer with U.S. Fleet Forces Command said. "It was launched from aircraft carriers and they were the weapons system if you will in those battles. The aircraft carrier is the backbone of the U.S. Navy. We have 11 of them, we're ready to go, we're ready to fight but the aircraft carrier is vital to the way we conduct warfare today."
21 News flew out to the carrier USS George Washington, arriving on a C2 Greyhound. One of the most impressive aspects of being on a carrier is flight operations - F18's conducting arrested landings and catapult launches and we were able to stand just feet away.
The flight deck of George Washington is four and a half acres. It can hold 60 plus aircraft, 30 more can be housed in the hangar below.
During deployment, there can be 5,000 sailors aboard including Youngstown native Petty Officer Jeffrey Melnek who is an Operations Specialist, a job secretive enough, he couldn't show us where he worked.
"We conduct operations, we conduct search and rescues, we track air contacts, track surface contacts," Melnek said. "I can't show you to much of what we do, a lot of it is secret information but I can tell you that our job is very important and 5,000 sailors depend on us to protect them."
Despite the cramped quarters, more than three football field length and like 10 stories of stairs below the flight deck, Melnek loves every aspect of living and working on an aircraft carrier.
"You have two galleys, you have Starbucks, you have a library, you have everything on a carrier, it is a small town out to sea and being able to see the jets hit the deck and fly off all the time, just, it's unbelievable what we can do on an aircraft carrier out to sea," Melnek said.
Next year, George Washington will head back to Japan to play a critical role in defending American interests in the Pacific.
"All the carriers are critical to our nation's and Navy's defense but our carrier specifically you can say there is going to be no more important carrier based on what the nation and the Navy is going to ask us to do which is go into the Pacific Fleet and being over there in 7th fleet and being ready to answer the call when called upon so we have really driven that point home to our sailors about how important that is," Captain Brent Gaut, Commanding Officer of George Washington said. "The ship obviously was there, came back to the states to get the maintenance done and we're excited to go back. Reagan, the Ronald Reagan did a fantastic job of being that forward deployed Naval forces aircraft carrier. We're excited and thankful for the job they did, we're excited to go back to where we came from to take our place as the forward deployed Naval forces Japan aircraft carrier and again just based on real world events and things that are happening daily and seeing that obviously hoping diplomacy wins out, hoping we can work with other countries to make sure that we maintain peace around the world but understanding that if the fight goes down we need to be ready to answer the call and that is going to be this ship, our ship is going to be the first responder if something happens in the Pacific."
With eleven total aircraft carriers, more than the next five countries combined, the U.S. Navy continues to be a world leader on the seas. Another carrier, USS Enterprise, is scheduled to be operational by 2028.