My 24 hours ‘under way’

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, June 22, 2016

by Amanda Jarrat

When I received a call Wednesday afternoon inviting me to a Distinguished Visitor tour of the U.S.S. George Washington, I immediately knew it would be a special experience and that I would have to go. When I arrived at our meeting point, I immediately knew that this experience would rate in the top 10 lifetime experiences. Little did I know what lay ahead and what a deep impact the entire experience would have.

A Super Hornet readies for take off on top of the U.S.S. George Washington. -- Submitted | Amanda Jarratt

A Super Hornet readies for take off on top of the U.S.S. George Washington. — Submitted | Amanda Jarratt

As we suited up for our “COD” flight out over the Atlantic and I listened to the safety briefing describing the landing on the carrier as an event that would take your breathe away and approximately eight times the impact of a commercial airplane landing, I began to wonder, “What was I thinking?”

So, the pilot was right?

The landing took my breath away, and here we were on this massive floating city. With Super Hornets buzzing by our heads, were immediately escorted into this lavish conference room where the Commanding Officer paused from his busy day to welcome us aboard.

In his first few breathes, he made sure to emphasis that the core of the ships operations and the heart and soul of the vessel was the men and women on the flight deck and below where the average age ranged from 19 to 21.

Amanda Jarratt stands near the “bubble” on top of the U.S.S. George Washington.

Amanda Jarratt stands near the “bubble” on top of the U.S.S. George Washington.

The rest of the experience is difficult to adequately convey through the written word. I can tell you that the flight deck operations are a delicate dance that occurs under the most extreme circumstances and one wrong move results in a catastrophic accident or death. I can smell the jet fuel on my skin after several showers and the heat on my face is something I can’t imagine experiencing on a regular basis.

I can tell you that we walked every inch of the ship other than the nuclear reactors.

When night approached we sat in the “Ready Room” with pilots in training that were about to depart for their first night time landings on a carrier. If they successfully completed their training they would be assigned to their full-time strike group and potentially face combat situations. The ship was rocking hard and the visibility was limited. When the pilots were asked how they were feeling, there was a deafening silence and a quiet whisper of, “terrified.”

As the tour group moved to Vulture’s Row to watch the night time training operations, many prayers were lifted for the safety of those guys.

Our group had the pleasure of dining with the Executive Staff, the Senior Enlisted Men, and the Enlisted guys. I had breakfast with Christopher, who was quietly celebrating his 19th birthday, ready to lay it all on the line for this great country of ours with no regrets.

I can tell you for the next few months I will not complain about needing “my space” or not having privacy. These guys and girls sleep on bunks three high with up to 100 others a berthing area. They have no space, no privacy and, for the most part, no complaints.

I definitely won’t complain about being hot. In the Perisan Gulf, they experience temperatures of 165 degrees and their boots melt on the flight deck. No matter what the circumstance, these soldiers take pride in their piece of the overall mission and if that means they live in less than ideal conditions they do it with a smile.

I truly had the pleasure of a once in a lifetime experience. I won’t go into details about the “cat shot” off of the carrier other than to say thank goodness I hadn’t eaten much during our trip. I am so thankful for our military and the economic engine that they are for Hampton Roads. The attention to detail and focus on the mission for these gentleman keep us safe today and provide us an incredibly skilled workforce for tomorrow. Some of these guys don’t see the light of day for weeks at a time. I am truly changed by the 24 hours I was under way with the U.S.S. George Washington. Next time you see a Navy sailor or anyone in the U.S. military thank them for their service and sacrifice. I saw it first hand and know I will.

Amanda Jarratt is the CEO and president of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. She can be reached at or 562-1958.