JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
On military installations around the world, public affairs professionals try to educate the local community about the military. These community relations programs can take many different forms, from base tours for school groups, to the Air Force's Honorary Commander program. At Joint Base Charleston, a recent community relations project enabled one of JB Charleston's honorary commanders to fly to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to see first-hand, what life is like at sea.
James Warner, WCSC TV news director and 628th Air Base Wing honorary commander, was nominated by JB Charleston commanders to take part in the Navy's Distinguished Visitors Embark program. He flew to the USS Enterprise (CVN 69) which was 75 miles off the coast of Florida conducting pre-deployment exercises.
The DV embark program is designed to increase awareness of the Navy's mission by selecting community leaders to share their experiences with the largest possible audience. Embarks aboard Navy vessels by community leaders assist recruiting and educational efforts.
"I did some research before heading out on my voyage since this was my first time on an aircraft carrier," Warner said. "There is nothing you can read or a video you can watch, which will prepare you for life on a ship."
Warner was joined by 11 other distinguished visitors from around the country, but was the only Air Force honorary commander.
"I felt privileged to be the only distinguished visitor to have some military experience through my time as an honorary commander," Warner said. "I have been part of the honorary commander program, and the Air Force for more than a year and was excited to learn more about the Navy way of life."
Warner flew from Mayport Jacksonville, Fla. to the Enterprise via a C-2 Greyhound or Carrier Onboard Delivery and in doing so, became an honorary Tailhooker. Warner said landing aboard the Enterprise was exactly what he thought it would be.
"The short runway and the line that catches the plane made the flight feel like the best rollercoaster I have ever been on," he said. "The C-2 is a small plane and we were sitting facing the rear of the aircraft. We wore seatbelts, life vests, helmets, ear protection and goggles. It's definitely not flying first class."
The visitors spent their first night aboard touring the flight deck and flight operations.
"Being on the flight deck and watching fighter jets being catapulted off was exhilarating," Warner said. "I could literally feel the roar made by the engines throughout my body. The fire coming from the jets lit up the sky. You could almost feel the forces the pilot was holding in his hands. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before."
The remainder of the evening was spent talking to the Sailors and learning about their experiences. After socializing, the visitors headed to their 'dorm-like-sized quarters.'
"Even though the ship was full of confined spaces, hot air and the noise around me was deafening, I was so exhausted I slept all through the night - despite all the noise," Warner said.
The next morning started with each distinguished visitor paring up with a Sailor for breakfast. This was the most memorable part of the trip, Warner said.
"Spending one-on-one time with a young Sailor and finding out why he joined the Navy was the highlight of the trip," he said.
After breakfast, the visitors toured the ship's medical facilities, dental clinic, maintenance shops and the bomb storage deck.
"The ship was like a city," Warner said. "I was amazed how people could find their way around."
Since Warner works for a television studio, he wanted to tour the ship's public affairs office. He wanted to see how his job differs from mass communicators in the Navy.
"Surprisingly their T.V. studio was pretty similar to the smaller stations I used to work for earlier in my career," Warner said.
Touring the Enterprise was Warner's second trip with the military. In the summer of 2011, he spent a week with Team Charleston's Rodeo members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. for an air mobility competition.
"I was impressed with the character, talent, drive and passion the young Sailors and Airmen I have met displayed," Warner said. "I wish I could see those same characteristics in the civilian world for the same age group."
"Joint Basing has opened up another avenue for us to tell the military's story." said Capt. Frank Hartnett, JB Charleston's public affairs officer. "As a Joint Air Force and Navy base, we have to concentrate on telling two stories, those of our Airmen and Sailors. Since so many of the Navy's nuclear Sailors are trained right here on our base, this is an extraordinary opportunity to show community leaders the other half of what we do."
Although 12 distinguished visitors experienced the same tour aboard the Enterprise, Warner felt a closer appreciation to the service members on board.
"I felt I had a greater understanding and appreciation for the love for country the Sailors aboard had, through my time as an honorary commander," he said. "Being fully emerged in the Air Force way of life and now the Navy way of life, has opened my eyes in ways I couldn't imagine to the joint basing concept. Airmen and Sailors, as dissimilar as they may seem, and all service members, show every day their selfless dedication to protect our freedoms."