The carrier George H.W. Bush will make its maiden overseas deployment May 11. (MC3 Tony Curtis / Navy)
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For the youngest sailors, it's the big adventure they've been waiting for. For some fliers, it's giving some of the newest aircraft in the fleet their deployment baptism. And for the admiral, it's the culmination of a lot of work and good fortune that have placed a woman at the head of a carrier strike group for the first time.
The carrier George H.W. Bush begins its maiden overseas deployment Wednesday morning at the head of a five-ship, eight-air squadron armada. It's commanded by Rear Adm. Nora Tyson, who said the carrier, the ships and the nearly 6,000 sailors in the group went through nearly a year of training and certifications to prepare for this moment.
"Very excited, the crews are very excited, and we're ready to go," Tyson told reporters pierside on Tuesday as sailors filed past behind her, either lugging gear toward the massive ship or hustling off in civilian clothes for a few more hours of liberty.
Tyson probably is hoping that it'll be awhile before she's again asked how she feels about being the first woman to command a carrier strike group. But she takes it in stride and strikes a self-effacing tone in her response.
"I'm very fortunate … to be in this position," Tyson said. "But I've been fortunate during my career that the laws for women serving in the military have changed at the right time for me in my career, that ultimately, I'm able to be here and command this strike group.
"I can't tell you how fortunate I feel," Tyson said. "And to have the team that I have, the leadership that I have, the sailors that I have, it really is a phenomenal honor for me."
Deployments are nothing new for Tyson, who commanded the amphibious assault ship Bataan during the Navy's response to Hurricane Katrina and deployed twice to the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War. For many of the group's sailors — especially those on the carrier who have been assigned long enough to have logged shipyard time during the last throes of Bush's construction — this cruise is what they thought the Navy would be all about.
"I was telling them when we were walking down the pier — it felt like it was yesterday that we were in the shipyard," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Launching and Recovery Equipment) 3rd Class Santiago Garcia, walking toward the Bush with Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Launching and Recovery Equipment) 3rd Class (AW) Deanne Craig and Aviation Boatswain's Mate Airman Rhonda Henry. "And now we're going on deployment."
"I just want to see different things," said Boatswain's Mate Seaman Charles Norris. "That's what I signed up for."
For Naval Aircrewman (Tactical Helicopter) 2nd Class (NAC) Todd Shulman of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70 out of Jacksonville, the deployment is one of those bittersweet moments to which many sailors can relate. He's excited about making his first cruise, and doing so while flying on an MH-60R Seahawk — it's the first East Coast deployment for the anti-submarine-specializing "Romeo" model. But he'll leave behind his wife and three-year-old son for the first time as well.
"It's gonna be a little bit harder on my wife, just being at home with a kid for that long," he said. They'll stay in touch via email. "As much as I can," Shulman said. "It's tough when you've got 12-15 guys and a couple computers … and you've got a lot of work you've got to do, also — so the computers get tied up."
Watching all the last-minute preparations with a satisfied grin was the officer who gets to command a brand-new aircraft carrier on its maiden voyage. "Nothing's broken, all's good, the crew's ready, excited," said Capt. Brian Luther. "With an operational ship that's been around a bit, there's a little of that deployment fatigue. But these guys, they're excited to prove themselves.
"And the other facet," he added, referring to President George H.W. Bush, a decorated naval pilot during World War II, "is having a living namesake, and having his active interest. It really, really motivates the crew."