In photos: From yoga to brunch, life on the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier

In photos: From yoga to brunch, life on the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier

When you have about 5,000 folks spending up to six months at sea on a nuclear-powered vessel of war, how do you maintain a sense of normal life? CNA Insider gets a tour.

What do sailors do in their downtime on the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier? Here's a peek below deck of this "floating city".

MANILA: It’s like a little floating town, with a movie theatre, Starbucks café, yoga lessons with an ocean view, and a well-equipped medical centre among the amenities.

But this is no pleasure cruise for the 5,000-odd souls on board. Not when the vessel you’re on is a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which has seen action in theatres of conflict in the Middle East; been part of disaster relief efforts in post-earthquake Haiti; and is now on patrol in the strategically vital South China Sea.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson wide shot
Photo: US Navy

On board the USS Carl Vinson’s massive flight deck, which is as large as three football fields, the roar of aircraft is a constant, with flight operations taking place day and night. This was the deck from which the body of Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden was reportedly buried at sea in 2011.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson flight deck 2

It’s a risky place to work. During a recent media visit on board the Nimitz-class supercarrier, operations officer Lieutenant Commander Mason Berry handed out safety vests prior to showing us the flight works.

“These are going to keep you safe, in the event you get blown off into the water,” he cautioned. “Unlikely, but possible.”

(Related story: USS Carl Vinson makes historic visit to Vietnam in 'routine' port call)

(ct) USS Carl Vinson flight deck watchers
Landing signal officers and safety observers keep watch as aircraft prepares to land. (Photos and video: Goh Chiew Tong)

(ct) USS Carl Vinson helicopter 3

Below deck, there is a contrasting sense of normalcy. As superjets roar overhead, folks on their downtime munch on lunch and raved about chocolate chip cookies in the cafeterias.

A group of men and women perform deadlifts and other workouts at the gym situated in a corner of the hanger bay, with the air wing maintenance crew busy at work within earshot.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson gym

(ct) USS Carl Vinson hanger bay technician

Others are limbering up with yoga, plus the benefit of fresh ocean air and a sea-and-sky view.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson hanger bay yoga

The hangar bay holds part of the more than 70 aircraft on the carrier, and daily inspections are conducted before an aircraft can take off. Some 2,000 of the people on board are air wing staff.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson Hanger bay

(ct) USS Carl Vinson hanger bay group photo
Aviation warfare specialist Amos Albert (far left), with teammates Tanner Heredia and Izayah Callandret, said the most enjoyable part of his job is making “lifelong bonds like this”.

With 3,000 rooms and endless hallways giving the illusion of an infinity mirror, finding your way around below deck is a skill that takes weeks to master.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson hallway

(ct) USS Carl Vinson coordinates 1
These coordinates help you know where you are on the ship.

It’s also easy to lose track of time, the passing of day and night, if you stay below for a prolonged period. Crew and staff spend four to six months on board during each deployment.

White lights are switched to red in the evenings, to help the crew sleep and to adjust their Circadian rhythm.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson red lights

Food is another way people on board tell the day of the week.

For example, Saturdays are pizza days, and Sunday brunch is the meal which every sailor looks forward to - a full spread of pancakes and waffles.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson wardroom

(ct) USS Carl Vinson salad bar
The salad bar, stocked with fruits, vegetables and soup.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson food close up

So that the sailors don’t get bored with the food, no same menu is served twice in 21 days. What this means is that the galley staff have to master some 1,600 recipes.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson galley 2
Seven galleys provide four daily meals round the clock.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson culinary specialist

For Gorden Rasheed (above), 28, who has been serving as a ‘culinary specialist’ on the Carl Vinson for five years, the best part of the job is being able to cook his own personalised meals, instead of partaking of the set menus.

“Cooking all that food (for others) all day, you don’t really feel for it, it ruins your appetite,” said the self-described picky eater.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson cookies
Making white chocolate chip cookies

(ct) USS Carl Vinson senior menu
Senior officers get to order items from the Golden Eagle Grill menu.

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The occasional wardroom karaoke session on Friday nights.

Snacks such as Pop Tarts, candy bars and energy drinks can also be found in wardrooms and the convenience store.

This is why the dentistry department is so important, and also the “most feared” place on the ship, joked senior dental officer Hien Trinh (below). “You’ll see a lot of vending machines for candy - you name it, they have it. Obviously, we fix (the consequences), that’s why we’re here.”

(ct) USS Carl Vinson dentist 2

x(ct) USS Carl Vinson dentist room
The feared counter at the dental office.

Looking after the sailors’ well-being are three flight surgeons, one general surgeon, one Intensive Care Unit nurse, and a family practice doctor, who run the medical centre.

“We do have a few emergencies on board - it’s a very industrious environment, so people do get hurt,” said senior medical officer Grant Wallace. “We don’t have to move the ship to somewhere where we can fly somebody on board; we can take care of it here."

During the Haiti earthquake relief efforts, some victims were also treated on board.

(ct) USS Carl Vinson surgical suite
The ship’s surgical suite (above) for basic surgeries. There's also an acute care area (below),

(ct) USS Carl Vinson ER

With a ship and crew this huge, it is important that newly-deployed individuals undergo a three-month experience in backend operations, such as the domestics department, to understand how the ship functions as a whole: Each part is as important as the other.

Aviation ordnanceman Gillianna Dolce was seen cleaning tables and replenishing food trays on the line during lunch, though her ‘regular’ job is servicing bombs or “building stuff that bombs are put on”.

“I used to work at Dairy Queen, so it reminds me a lot of what I used to do back home,” the 19-year-old said. “It’s a good combined effort to make sure everything runs smoothly here.”

(ct) USS Carl Vinson safety

WATCH: A tour in 3:35min

Source: CNA/yv