Op-ed: Aboard the USS Harry Truman

Close encounter with U.S. Navy an exhilarating experience

By Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani

November 9, 2015

I usually tell the Tidewater Community College story of access, opportunity and affordability to anyone who will listen. Today, just a couple of days ahead of Veterans Day, I want to tell a different story.

Since becoming TCC’s president in 2012, I’ve met with and worked with dozens of military leaders, mostly on educational partnerships for active-duty and transitioning military. But over Labor Day weekend, I realized that my familiarity with the Navy scratches only a millimeter below the surface.

That weekend, I was one of nine civilians invited on an “embark,” an overnight visit to the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), by Rear Admiral Rick Williamson, Commander Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. We flew out to the ship off the coast of Delaware and debarked when it was off the coast of North Carolina.

It was a busy time. The Truman is preparing to take the place of the Theodore Roosevelt in the Persian Gulf, which is currently without a U.S. Navy presence.

Two months later, my experience aboard the Truman is still vivid. It was exhausting, exciting and exhilarating. And I came away with a sense of pride – pride in the work these young men and women are doing and in how we at TCC and the Center for Military and Veterans Education support them.

If you laid out six football fields two wide and three long, you’d have an idea of the Truman’s size. It is as high as a 24-story building. During my brief visit, I felt like I had seen every inch of it.

We watched jets catapult from the deck, one after another, and return one after another, all the while guided by precise and professional young sailors whose average age is 19½. We saw the anchor chains, each link weighing 350 pounds. And the chains had 1,000 links. 

We saw the hangar bays, climbed ladders, ate in the mess and slept in racks.

No privacy on a Navy ship, that’s for sure. It’s not a life that I would willingly choose.

But these sailors did choose it, for a variety of reasons. The opportunity to gain education is a motivating factor, which I was glad to find.  I met a young woman, a dental technician, who is putting in four years of active duty in order to fulfill her ambition to become a dentist.

Sailors also said they wanted to give back to their nation and fight for its security. They told me of long family histories in the military, which they wanted to continue. Some just said, “I like boats” and “I like being on the water.”

Mostly they want to improve their lives and support our nation’s safety. I am so impressed with the dedication of the commanders who want to support their sailors while on active duty and as they transition to civilian life.

Navy ships frequently host these embarks, when their schedules permit, and when I asked why, the commanders said, “We want people to get the message to the community of what goes on. We want them to tell the story.”

To the young men and women of the Truman: I have told your story, albeit a very small part. I know in the coming months you will do your dangerous jobs with professionalism and precision, and I hope you will all return safely home.

I’m proud to say that TCC will be working to develop new programs to help you take your next steps, whether that means continuing in the Navy or entering civilian life.

And we, along with all of the colleges in our region, will be waiting for you when you return.