RUSSELL, Ky. — It was huge.
“We went from a submarine and an aircraft carrier to the ocean. It doesn’t get much bigger than that,” concluded teacher and chaperone Cynthia Sparks, following a journey to Norfolk, Va., with a group of 56 Russell High School students.
“We had several kids who’ve never been to the beach before, never been to the ocean,” she said. “I’ve been going to the beach since I was 2 years old, so I don’t remember what that was like. But, to see it in their eyes ...”
The student trip to Naval Station Norfolk took 56 Russell High School Air Force Junior ROTC cadets on deck and below on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, as well as deep within the confines of the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Boise. Cadet Katie Glazier came away from the visit with an improved education about the former U.S. president the aircraft carrier is named in honor of, while Cody Daugherty enjoyed conversations with crew members, including fire specialists, aboard the gigantic ship.
For Michael Gillum, the invitation to board the submersible boat offered an unexpected lesson.
“I never knew how much I hated tight spaces,” Gillum said with a grin, explaining he had never experienced claustrophobia before boarding the Boise. “It was hard to imagine how 120 people could work in there ... and for such long times.”
Cadet C.J. Martin said he was dedicated to the idea of joining the Air Force after graduation, although the trip to Norfolk gave him good reason to second guess those plans.
“It opened my eyes to the Navy, for sure. I was strictly Air Force. The Navy has close to the same morals as the Air Force and they do the same jobs. I was just impressed with how everybody works together. There are 5,000 people on there and they say everybody knows everybody,” Martin said, later adding he saw more aircraft in action at the naval base than he did during a visit to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
For many in the group, the beach was the highlight of the trip.
“There is a video of a line of us running from the back of the beach into the water,” said Martin, with cadet Riley Frinfrock adding, “If you watch the video, you will see about 90 percent of us running back out of the water. It was so cold!”
Ashley Stevens laughed and confessed she paid the price for turning down sunscreen. “They offered it, but I wanted to get tanned,” she said with a laugh, acknowledging she got her first taste of the ocean when she entered the water and got an unexpected mouthful of the brine. “It was gross,” she said.
Marilyn Wessel, one of several sunburned students who declined offers of sunscreen, said the USS Boise made a mark on her mind. “Just how small it looks from the outside and how big it is on the inside,” she observed, while many of her fellow cadets thought the boat looked large from the outside, but had no wasted interior space. Wessel said she was also astounded at the expansiveness of the shopping center at the naval base.
Daugherty said he also observed officers are regular people, too. “I think of all of them as straight-on, to-the-point people,” he said, pausing to glance at instructor Col. Terry Maggard as he made the observation before clarifying he had the opportunity to see several officers aboard the Harry S. Truman enjoying themselves with workout and recreational equipment.
Mariah Kirk said she was almost shocked to determine the aircraft carrier “was seriously huge, but the submarine was compact.”
Kayle Roark noted the beds aboard the submarine were “about as wide as this table.” Cory Black, who served as AFJROTC commander during the first semester of the year, said he watches a lot of films and television shows about submarines, but remained surprised at the compact nature of the big boat, describing aspects of the craft as “like a pop-up tent.” Second-semester commander Damon Menshouse said he was impressed at the amount of time submarine crew members spend together “in tight quarters,” compared to Air Force members who do similar jobs, but go home to their own spaces at the end of the day. Menshouse said some of his fellow students were astounded at the ocean’s beauty, “and I don’t think they expected the water to be so cold.”
Maggie Contreras and Samantha Howell often spoke in tandem, agreeing neither would be a good candidate for submarine duty.
“I could do it, but I’m not used to tight spaces,” one said, as the other added “I wanted to run out!”
Isaac Stephens said the Truman “was the single biggest fishing boat” he has seen with dimensions that must be experienced to be appreciated. Stephens said the Boise, by comparison, “was massive, but you have about half the space you have in a (Toyota) Prius.” Stephens also theorized their proximity to the submarine’s nuclear reactor demagnetized all of their hotel room keys.
Ryan Malone said he was thoroughly impressed by the amount of firepower, as well as the stealth capabilities, of the Boise.
“It is intimidating, it holds so much force,” he said, citing the boat’s torpedo and missile-carrying capacities. Asked if he would like to serve aboard a submarine, Malone immediately shook his head and said, “I think I’d go mad.”
Maggard said the student cadets were on their best behavior, and acknowledged he owes cadet Gabe Lowe a Snickers candy bar for meeting the challenge of holding his breath as their bus traveled from one end of the Hampton Roads Tunnel, passing beneath a Navy ship as crossed above.