Throughout my years as a school administrator, I often engaged with the two people above me in my school district. One of my fights concerned a history teacher who had served his country years earlier and now served, I believe, as a Lt. Col. in the Naval Reserve. The Navy asked him every so often to report for active duty at some base or other in the US to help train recruits. My bosses resented his occasional departures because it meant hiring a substitute teacher for him on the days he was gone. I get that, but I figured that in the service of our country, our district could afford the extra expense. Perhaps I recalled how my 11th-grade history teacher regularly missed classes to pilot military transport planes to Vietnam during the war. I argued forcefully that we should let the teacher do his service without laying any guilt trips on him or making it difficult on him when he returned.
I suppose he was appreciative because one day he asked if I wanted to be considered to go on a Boss Lift. I'm sure my ignorance registered on my face. "What exactly is a Boss Lift?" I asked. He said there were two kinds. The premise behind a Boss Lift is that the Navy wanted to show their appreciation for those "bosses" of officers in the Reserve who were allowing these men and women to take time from their regular employment to serve their military branch. My history teacher said there were popular Boss Lifts in the State of NJ, where business executives and congressmen and congresswomen and political appointees would gather for a day or a weekend at some government locale in the beloved Garden State. But, my teacher did not recommend that for me. He wanted to submit my name for the National Boss Lift.
I said "Sure", and I didn't think about it much until he came to me one day and said I had been accepted! I was headed for the US Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia on the Hampton Roads Peninsula, the world's largest naval base!
I drove down to McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County (It is now called Joint Base McGuire/Dix/Lakehurst) and checked in with a group of congressmen, business executives, and military specialists. We boarded a military transport plane not unlike the one depicted above. No one needed to sit on the sides, and a number of the seats were empty. We were all given ear plugs because no sound reduction elements were added to the plane and the noise of the engines was deafening as we took off. It was cold. There were no real amenities, including apparently much in the way of heat. The seats were not built for comfort. No one came around with cocktail peanuts or magazines. It was a spartan flight. It wasn't long before we landed in southern Virginia. The view from the air was impressive. There were nearly one hundred ship and dozens of planes below on the four miles of waterfront that make up the base.
Over the course of my three-day visit, I explored many ships, including an aircraft carrier--a floating city, indeed. We were touring a Destroyer at one point, and as we entered the ship's electronic nerve center, we were admonished to walk quickly and take no photos because there was highly classified information on the screens in that hub. Sadly, I missed out on two things I was expecting. We were not able to tour a submarine because it had to depart suddenly. And bad weather would prevent us from going on a refueling flight where we were all going to get a chance to lie in the plane's belly and watch the operation from up close.
Below: What I didn't get to see due to bad weather:
But I did get to spend a good deal of time on the U.S.S. Cole, a guided-missile destroyer that would soon, tragically, be in the news. I'm not sure why we spent so much time on the Cole instead of many other ships, but we did. Below is the glossy photo we all received, a brief history of the ship, and a decal to commemorate our visit.
Just a few months after my visit, the USS Cole was attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in a suicide-bombing mission when it was sitting in the port of Aden in the country of Yemen. The terrorists steered a small boat alongside the Cole and detonated a large cache of explosives, ripping a forty-foot hole in the ship's hull. Seventeen sailors were killed and nearly forty more were injured. I couldn't help but think that I might have met a few of the victims on my visit six months earlier. The ship was brought back to the States, where it took about a year for restoration. It returned to the waters just after the attack on 9/11/2001.
I think what I remember most from my Boss Lift was the classroom lectures from a group of Navy SEALs, generally considered the country's elite special operations force. SEAL-team members spoke to us at length about a number of their missions, both announced and covert. They talked about the grueling training regimen to become a Navy SEAL and showed us a video. I wasn't sure how any person could meet such daunting challenges and survive. I know I couldn't. Sadly, one would-be SEAL died recently during the training phase, commonly known as "Hell Week".
Below: A Navy SEAL discusses just a few elements of his training:
The upshot of my visit? I was impressed as hell at the members of our armed forces. As the Navy puts it: "These events allow employers to see Reserve personnel in the Navy environment, talk to them in person, and allow them to actually observe the training and work the service members are doing while away from their civilian job." I was glad I had fought for my teacher's participation, and I was delighted to play some small role in helping it to happen.