PBS’ CARRIER – Parts 3 and 4

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PBS’ CARRIER demonstrates that real life stories are more powerful and captivating than fiction. The series second night built on the great foundation set the first. There are 5,000 sailors, 5,000 jobs and 5,000 stories aboard “4.5 acres of sovereign US territory” that is the USS NImitz.

Episode 3 – Super Secrets

In episode 3, we learn about all of different jobs and activities that make the ship run; from trash removal to nuclear engineering each sailor has a responsibility and duty to contribute to the mission. Each also has the duty and responsibility to act like mature adults while on shore leave but unfortunately not all can. With only 800 women aboard the Nimitz, it’s easy to see how social tensions and sexual problems could arise. Dating is highly discouraged; however, there is a remarkable scene involving the reporting of sexual indiscretions between 2 sailors that teeters on the edge of rape and which damages the reputations and destroys the naval career of both.

On a lighter note, an entertaining story within a story has been developing about the young videographer Christian Garzone (MySpace and Youtube pages) whose shipboard hobby is making films. He seems to be a well liked young man with a great sense of humor and strong camera presence which at times steals the show.

Episode 3 description:

The ship’s location and itinerary are classified. Details of how the nuclear reactor works are top secret. Many aspects of life on a nuclear aircraft carrier are hush-hush. Dating and sex aboard ship are strictly forbidden, but according to one sailor, with 5,000 people on board, relationships are “inevitable,” resulting in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that applies to relationships as well as sexual orientation. When the Nimitz pulls into Hong Kong for a four-day port call, a scandal dramatically alters the lives of two sailors. As the ship departs, the crew learns their itinerary has changed. The captain announces that they are heading for Korea, but the crew can’t share this information with their families back home … because it’s a secret.

Episode 4 – Squared Away

Teamwork is absolutely essential for the ship to operate efficiently and effectively and there is an interesting discussion about rank and officers’ responsibility and accountability. One young woman talks about the challenge of rising faster than her peers but quickly acknowledges that’s she happier she’s being paid more.

Discipline is what is missing from the lives of so many enlisted sailors. Thankfully many find it aboard ship with the help of experienced sailors who play the role of mentors. Unfortunately, some don’t.

One young man angles to get out by playing the racist. One of the most amazing demonstrations of leadership thus far in the series takes place when an African American approaches him at the end of a drunken shore leave beach party and talks to him in a calm and collected fashion making a case for trying to learn from and accept different cultures. “One person can make a difference” he says and for a moment we think this might just work.

Episode 4 description:

Mentoring and camaraderie are what hold the ship together. But life on deployment is stressful for everyone aboard, and there can be considerable friction between enlisted personnel and their superiors. Port calls allow sailors to blow off steam, but they don’t relieve all the pressure. In Guam, a young sailor coming to terms with his upbringing can’t play by the rules and is forced out of the Navy. From Guam, the Nimitz sails through the Straits of Malacca, past Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, the last liberty call before the long haul to the Persian Gulf.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that so many of the young people that have ended on the Nimitz come from tough family backgrounds. Early on an officer remarks that not too many aboard are graduates of Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite New England prep school. The Navy is a melting pot and its amazing that such a diverse group of individuals can live in such a challenging environment with so few serious problems and actually make this sophisticated war machine hum.

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PBS’ CARRIER – Parts 1 and 2

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I just finished watching the first 2 parts of PBS’s new series CARRIER and it was awesome. Even if you have no interest in military or naval matters, this show is definitely worth watching. The cinematography and music are fantastic. The individual and collective stories are fascinating. Among other things, its a great study of leadership.

Episode 1 – All Hands was a great stage setter. In it you get to meet a wide range sailors aboard the USS Nimitz, one of only ten nuclear powered aircraft carriers in the world. There are more than 5,000 residents that call the ship home and work and a large number are under the age of 21. It’s not too far away from being a floating high school with a serious mission.

Episode 1 description:

On a bright May morning, 5,000 sailors and Marines bid farewell to their loved ones before the mammoth USS Nimitz pulls out of Coronado, California, and sets a course for Hawaii and beyond. Among the men and women who live and work on board are an airman who describes the ship as a small town; a pilot who considers the ship a powerful instrument of diplomacy; a sailor who questions “why we’re fighting to defend someone else’s freedom when we barely have our own”; a cook who dishes out 15,000 meals a day; and an airman who has just learned that his girlfriend is pregnant.

Episode 2 Controlled Chaos tells the story of the complexity of running this floating city that also happens to be the most sophisticated war machine. There is so much activity happening on the flight deck that one sailor advises to keep your head on a swivel to look out for trouble that can come from any direction at anytime. While New York might be the city that never sleeps, the Nimitz is clearly a ship that doesn’t either.

A pilot of one of the $57 million aircraft that get catapulted off the end of the ship says that landing is like having sex during a car accident. Work hard, play harder is the flight squadrons’ mantra. Much of the support for these Top Guns comes from young enlisted airmen who get paid less than what their friends make back home at McDonalds. When asked, the Captain isn’t sure how they are able to extract such a high level of performance but offers they do it for each other.

Episode 2 description:

The men and women of the USS Nimitz live beneath the runway of a major airport. They sleep on the roof of a nuclear power plant. It’s a perilous environment. Their only bulwark against danger and chaos is to bond with their units on board the ship. The “Shooters,” who launch the jets, have a “Circle of Trust”; the Ordies (ordnance personnel) pride themselves on being a “mafia”; the F-18 squadrons — the Black Aces, the Hoboes and the Marine Red Devils — are tight fraternities.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow night.

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