I had the extraordinary opportunity to be flown to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier on maneuvers 100 miles off the Mexican coast. The purpose of the Navy’s visitor program is to provide a firsthand experience to civilians about the role of aircraft carriers in the defense of the United States. The Navy hopes to engage visitors as “informal ambassadors” of the U.S. carrier program.
There was the thrill of the hook-arrest landing (the “controlled crash”) and the catapult launch that took us from 0 to 130 mph in just three seconds, subjecting our bodies to approximately 10 g’s—10 times the force of gravity. The night takeoffs by the F/A-18 Super Hornet tanker fighters required afterburners to launch. It was an unbelievable sight.
Yet, the most memorable event during my two days on the ship was my 20-minute breakfast with an enlisted sailor, Reuben Amador, Yeoman-1. Learning this seaman’s story was, by far, my most rewarding experience aboard the ship.
Reuben had been in the Navy for 16 years and was in line for a promotion to Chief. He told me, “If I make it to Chief, I’ll stay in the Navy for as long as they’ll have me.”
Amador is from a broken home with an absent father. When he joined the Navy, he learned that it is a place where he could learn the importance of family. At the time, Reuben and his wife had two natural children and not only an adopted a three-year-old, but they also adopted the child’s seventeen-year-old mother.
“How does your wife feel about you being in the Navy?” I asked.
“She loves it,” he replied. “But it’s hard being away from her and my kids,” he said. Many career Navy personnel admit that separation is the toughest part of the job.
“But, she, too, has had a chance to see the world. We’ve lived in Korea for two years and we may have the opportunity to live in other parts of the world that we have not yet seen.” Reuben said his wife thinks that’s great for the family. “Sure, it’s hard to be away from each other, but with e-mail, we communicate every day. It’s not nearly as bad as when I enlisted 16 years ago. All we had then was Morse Code.”
Reuben’s wife was also from a broken home. She, too, appreciates the Navy’s family values, and the support and camaraderie among the Navy wives. Reuben laughed as he recalled his wife’s comment one day when he returned from sea duty. “You smell like ship,” she said, “… but that’s okay!”
Reuben has reconnected with his absentee father and is developing a close relationship with him. He is also completing a college degree in criminal justice and would like to work for the FBI, the DEA, or the CIA after he finishes his naval career. He wants all kids to grow up in a family with healthy rules and values.
Reuben is committed. He is loyal. He believes in family. He gives back. He loves his wife and kids. He wants to grow and contribute what he has learned to others. These are his values. It was an inspiration to meet him and have breakfast at his table in the enlisted personnel mess hall aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.