Paradigm High educator recalls time aboard USS Abraham LincolnJul 01, 2022 09:57AM ● By Julie Slama
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Before school was out for the summer, Paradigm High School's photography teacher, yearbook adviser and librarian, Emilee McCoy, carefully took down a display on the USS Abraham Lincoln CVN-72 that had been on the library doors.
There were photographs of McCoy aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier, doing everything from dining with officers to being on the flight deck. She documented her 36-hour stay with photos, exploring what she called “a miniature city” aboard the vessel that can carry 90 aircraft and travels at 35 miles per hour.
“It definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one of the coolest experiences of my life,” said McCoy, who has taught at the charter school for 22 years.
McCoy was selected for the Educators to Sea program. Just before Veterans’ Day, she joined six other educators from across the country to learn first-hand about the U.S. Navy. They specifically learned about U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, which was launched in February 1998 as one of 10 similar ships.
Introduced in 2019, the Navy instituted the Educators to Sea program to provide educators with insight into the Navy’s daily operations on a flight carrier and to cultivate awareness and appreciation for the military. The Navy pays for high school teachers to fly out and spend a few days on an aircraft carrier while it is operating at sea.
McCoy was flown to San Diego and stayed the first night at a hotel, where she met the other teachers, most of whom taught math and science. Once at the base, the group underwent COVID-19 testing and would wear masks the entire time, except when on the flight deck or in the hangar.
After an introduction to the ship and a lesson about the vessel’s history, the group went to the CMV-22 Osprey helicopter launch pad, where they learned about their 90-minute flight. They buckled the seatbelts in the middle of their chests after the harness came over their shoulders and wore helmets with earplugs.
After an introduction aboard the vessel, McCoy and the others went to the flight deck. She learned that the Navy’s job is to keep international waters safe and that they use aircraft carriers for planes to land on the ocean.
“They had us climb these really narrow stairs that went up to the flight deck. We got to watch everything that was happening on the flight deck and that was my favorite part. Everyone was in different colors of vests, and they worked together like clockwork; they just knew exactly what they were doing. It was amazing to see the planes land,” she said.
Everyone, including McCoy, wore vests of differing colors to identify their roles.
“Before when I pictured the Navy, it was them in their Navy uniforms like in World War II with a sailor cap, but they were in green jumpsuits or flight suits, like ‘Top Gun,’” she said. “They all wore vests if they were on the flight deck. Catapult officers wore yellow. The catapult was basically a really strong wire that would help the planes stop really fast. It was fascinating to be there and see it; because the aircraft carrier doesn’t have a long runaway, they have a hook that comes down as they’re landing and it grabs onto that wire to slow down.”
McCoy was engrossed watching the planes arrive and depart by day and night.
“When the planes took off, they would just sit there really still, and you just would hear the engines going really fast. Then, all of a sudden, it would just take off like a shot like crazy,” she said. “There were some planes that the heat was so intense when they took off that this shield would pop up to protect the people behind it from the heat. That was cool to see.”
On the flight deck, captains wore brown vests, those who fielded the planes wore purple, maintenance wore green, emergency personnel wore red and medical and safety crew wore white – as did McCoy and the other VIP visitors.
“We had a complete tour of the ship. It’s like a miniature city with 5,000 people. We got to take all the pictures we wanted. I was geeking out because I just took so many pictures since I’m never going to see this again,” she said.
After the flight deck, the group went below deck.
“I’ve never climbed so many stairs in my life that were so steep. When you apply, you have to promise them that you are healthy enough that you can climb the stairs. There were times when we’d go all the way from the bottom to all the way to the top. It was like ‘huffing and puffing and blowing your house down.’ I think it was scarier going down than up because they were so steep. You just have these handrails and you’re trying to keep up with everyone and you’re just praying, please don’t let me fall. The only elevator was for the aircraft carriers to go down into the hangar to get fixed,” she remembered.
In the hangar, they talked about different types of planes. They also saw where and learned how the ship refuels.
The tour included seeing the barber, the dentist and doctor's offices and surgery rooms.
“The most common problem they see is injuries from falling down the stairs,” she said.
They visited the chaplain, who provided services for sailors of all religions, and she remembers being excited because he was in charge of the library.
“Naturally as the librarian, I was geeking out. Since it was the USS Abraham Lincoln, they have a specific section dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. They also have a really cool painting and a miniature museum dedicated to him,” she said. “I thought the name of their e-reader was cool; it’s called the NERD – Navy e-reader device.”
Another part McCoy appreciated seeing was the media room, where she learned the USS Lincoln has its own yearbook. The crew also prints a weekly newspaper and a monthly magazine and has its own photography staff.
“I told my photography students that they could be the ship’s photographers; there’s so many different types of jobs that I didn’t even think about when it comes to the Navy,” she said. “We got to talk to all these different people, even the one who showed us how he took care of the garbage, and he was so proud. Everyone took such pride in their work and loved what they did. They did it to the best of their ability; there is no halfway of doing anything.”
The tour continued to the laundry room with “washers that were ginormous, probably the size of one of those little miniature cars” –to the anchor room with Abe Lincoln decor —“I’ve never seen such a huge chain in my life” — to the brig, or prison – where prisoners wear white jumpsuits, sleep in three-story bunk beds with “no room to roll over in” and have use of a toilet “in the open, where there is no privacy.” Rations, she said, were meager.
Those rations were a far cry from the dinner she experienced with the executive officer, command master chief and seven Navy wives, who shared their experiences of their husbands being in the Navy. She recalled nice tablecloths, name plates, coffee cups with the USS Abraham Lincoln logo and a nice salad, main course and dessert.
“I sat next to one guy who was on the flight deck and he leaned over to me and said ‘we never get food this good,’” McCoy recalled. “They all answered our questions, told us their stories and it was just fascinating.”
After staying in big rooms with two bunk beds, they ate breakfast with people who were in charge of the flight deck.
“It was a step down on food from officers, but really fun to talk to them and get more information about what they do and what they love,” she said, adding that she and the others observed that with each meal, the quality of food went down. “At lunch it was definitely cafeteria food and it was interesting to get this personnel’s perspective. Some were patriotic and proud to be Americans, others joined because they wanted to get an education and help with college and still, there were some straight out of high school who wanted an adventure.”
McCoy also was able to meet the captain, Amy Bauernschmidt, who is the first female Navy captain of an aircraft carrier.
“I pictured her being rough around the edges and kind of a tough woman, but she was so down to earth and honestly, very sweet,” she said.
The teachers walked away with swag — a hat, shower shoes (which she didn’t use because “I couldn’t even find it”), a lanyard and a certificate saying they landed in an Osprey on the USS Lincoln. McCoy also bought two patches at the ship store.
Even though MCoy gets seasick, she is glad she didn’t hesitate in filing her application.
“I could feel movement as I was walking around and sometimes, I’d feel like I was losing my footing because it would jostle me. But it was an amazing experience. When a colleague (Alex Mueller) sent out an email to the Paradigm faculty saying ‘Do you remember when I went on an aircraft carrier? You can apply,’ it was totally something I wanted to do,” she said. “My husband is an army veteran and my stepson is in the army, my son-in-law is in the National Guard. Even though a different branch, it was cool to experience and something like, a little taste of what my family experienced.”
While growing up with a patriotic mother and having learned to be grateful for her country, McCoy said “it was just phenomenal to have this experience. With our school being the Patriots, it was cool to see that sense of pride.”