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Fleet Week NYC 2017 -- Aboard LHD-3 the USS Kearsarge

Posted on July 10, 2017 at 10:26 PM Comments comments (0)
Proud Trustworthy Bold – those are the words that make up the motto of the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), one of the US Navy’s Wasp-class amphibious assault ships.

LHD-3 was my “home” for most of one amazing morning, at the invitation of the US Navy to join a variety of VIPs to experience the New York City Fleet Week processional parade from the waters off Long Island, into New York Harbor and all the way to docking on Manhattan’s West Side on the Hudson River.

I was with the men and women crew of the USS Kearsarge for about seven hours.  During that time period, I saw first-hand how they live their motto – no doubt I experienced their pride during my visit. Yes, I sensed I was in good hands (they were totally trustworthy), and I’ve never seen a Navy man or woman that wasn’t bold in the true sense of the word.

An Early Start

My lucky day started at NYC’s Wall Street heliport at 5:00am.  The Navy said I should report there and be ready to fly out to the USS Kearsarge.   So with a light rain falling, I walked from hotel at 445am to join a group of about 40 VIPs, waiting in the drizzle for what promised to be a great day.  As I walked down to the helipad on the East River, I could hear the sounds of turbine helicopter engines.  I’ve landed many times in corporate helicopters on at this particular helipad, and I’ve watched US Presidents arrive there as well.  But there is nothing like the sound of Sea Dragon and Sea Hawk helicopters – I knew my ride was waiting.

An efficient check in process, then a security inspection and soon I was in a standard-issue Navy flight life jacket and ear protection.   And, quickly, we were walked to the helicopters and under spinning blades for our 20 minute flight to the deck of the USS Kearsarge.   


These helicopters were being used for Fleet Week support and had come in from Norfolk, and I watched with pride and fascination as we were loaded, seated and secured for the flight out of NYC, over Governor’s Island to the deck of LHD-3.  At almost 900 feet long, it’s a big flight deck.

Ready to Demonstrate Navy Pride

Even at 6:15am, this ship was awake with activity.  Everyone had something to do, and the crew of men and women were getting ready to show off the Navy Pride – crisp uniforms of both the Navy and Marines were evident, as the USS Kearsarge would be the key ship in a procession of vessels for Fleet Week’s parade of ships. 

We were welcomed by the ships officers and taken to the hanger deck – itself getting ready for the evenings banquet, and thus began a 2-hour tour of the ship’s key spaces.  A LHD ship is designed to support a variety of amphibious assault missions.  Up top, the flight deck supports helicopter operations for the Navy and Marines – with attack helicopters like the MH60, Vertical TakeOff and Landing Harrier Jets, and V22 Opry aircraft.   


Just underneath, the hanger deck supports aircraft storage and maintenance.  

Ramps lead down to the well deck – an area that provides support for the operation of air cushion landing craft – which launch from an area that is flooded with sea water – these “hovercraft” literally move of the ship, carrying troopers, trucks, and supplied to dry land.  The ability of this 41,000 ton ship to operate across air, sea and transport missions is impressive. 

Parade of Ships

After our tour and a cup of the Navy’s finest black coffee, it was off to the flight deck for the Parade of Ships.  Entering New York Harbor this was is indeed impressive, and involves sailing under North America’s most impressive suspension bridge – The Verrazano, which connects Staten Island and Long Island.  We just barely fit, and suddenly we were sailing into New York’s harbor.   To start the parade, many of the ship’s more than 1900 sailors and 1000 marines began to march from the hanger deck and position themselves along the edge of the flight deck.  Standing a few feet apart in formation, these young men and women were ready to show off for the Navy – and in their stark white and also tan uniforms, their display was impressive.
 















Our parade of ships took about three hours, and it gave me a chance to walk the length of the flight deck and visit with many of these young men and women.  Like my last US Navy experience, I found these young people to be super proud of their roles, excited to visit NYC, and especially willing to talk about serving their country.   Most were around 20-25 years old, from all corners of the US.  I met cooks, riflemen, radio operators, and mechanics – all kinds of people in all kinds of roles.  And to a sailor and Marine – they had one thing in common:  They were all super proud to be on the USS Kearsarge, and to be serving our great nation through their work in both the Navy and Marines.  (One personal note:  it was a cold morning, and the wind was blowing.  These young men and women were cold -- in light summer uniforms, short sleeves -- shivering was evident -- NOBODY complained.  They were proud to be arriving in NYC, excited about Fleet Week, and excited to show off for New York.)

An Unexpected Visit

Amazingly, on this huge flight deck, among two thousand personnel and visitors, I ran into the former Captain of the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier I had the honor of visiting in 2014.  I had flown to the aircraft carrier off the coast of Mexico as the ship and crew were training for deployment in the Middle East.  At the time, the ship was commanded by Capt. Kent Whalen, and here he was standing on the flight deck of LDH-3.  I re-introduced myself to Commander Whalen, and we visited together, as the USS Kearsarge sailed toward the Verrazano Bridge – what a pleasant surprise!

Saluting with Pride























During our sail into New York Harbor, the crew of the USS Kearsarge acknowledged three different special locations.  At first, the crew came to attention, and held their salute as we passed by Fort Hamilton on Long Island.  The crew also came to attention to salute the Statute of Liberty as we passed by that icon of New York Harbor.   And lastly, the crew saluted as we sailed past the site of the 9/11 disaster in Lower Manhattan.  That was a special and somber moment for sure
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Docking in Manhattan

Eventually, the USS Kearsarge approached mid-town Manhattan on the Hudson River.  As the procession of ships sailed past us, our giant ship (too big to proceed up the river) prepared to dock at Pier 88, right next to the USS Intrepid museum.  Despite her impressive size, the USS Kearsarge officers and crew slowly turned the huge ship and positioned her for a simple, smooth and efficient docking against Pier 88 and our time to leave the ship had arrived. To be fair, LHD-3 is a HUGE ship, and she towered over the USS Intrepid museum, and even further towered over both Pier 88 and the nearby West Side Highway. 

The Navy Continues to Amaze Me

You might ask – how did you get to take this amazing journey for Fleet Week?  As a communications professional, I continue to be impressed at the Navy’s ability to provide VIP access to their ships and personnel to people who can spread the word about Navy pride, mission and service.   Once again, I came way tremendously impressed at the personnel who make the military mission possible.  And, like on my last Navy visit, I was so amazed at how young and committed the sailors and Marines really are.  Their pride in service, in their mission, and in their service to our country was so evident.  I’ve been showing pictures of my Navy visits to everyone I meet, and have been talking about my visits the USS Carl Vinson and USS Kearsarge everywhere I go – in person and on social media.  I’ve been following these ships in the news since my visit, and will continue to do so where ever they take the Navy mission.

Back to Normal

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the day was as I walked out of the security zone at Pier 88 to head to the subway and leave NYC.  You walk out the gates, take ond last look at this amazing ship, and suddenly you are just another citizen walking the streets of NYC (just like everyone else), and struck by how luck  you were to be a part of something special. 
I waited a few weeks to create this blog about Fleet Week NYC.  I had started the blog and was ready to post it, when the USS Fitzgerald had its unfortunate collision near Japan, and seven sailors were killed on board.   That tragedy kept me from posting about Fleet Week, and I’m thinking about the crew of the USS Fitzgerald tonight as I write this post. 

Part of what is so amazing about the Navy is that those ships are out there, on the seas around the world, protecting the freedoms we hold so dear, so that our great country (and the world) can remain free and strong.  We sometimes forget that thousands of these young men and women are on duty every day of the year while we go about our regular everyday lives.  We are fortunate to have their service – and, like the motto of the USS Kearsarge reads -- have their trustworthy service, their bold action, and, most importantly, their pride in country.

My great thanks to the US Navy for this great opportunity.

For more information on Fleet Week NYC and the USS Kearsarge, see these great stories:






A Communications Lesson At Sea...

Posted on February 16, 2014 at 1:21 PM Comments comments (8)
When I learned I would spend 24 hours aboard one of America’s most powerful warships and biggest representative of democracy and peace, I expected to learn some powerful lessons.  About leadership, service to country, citizenship, and international relations.

What I didn’t expect was a lesson in “old school” communications.  You know, the face-to-face kind – actual, real, interpersonal kind.  Meeting new people, sharing experiences, shaking hands, looking strangers in the eye.   You might ask:  huh?
   
Let me explain…

When the US Navy selected me and more than a dozen of my peers to spend 24 hours aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), it did so because we are among those who are considered well connected in the social media world.   We have a broad social network, and are connected to many others who have even larger networks.  I’m sure the Navy expected we would spread the word about CVN-70, its mission and its amazing crew.  Trust me, we have done just that…reaching hundreds of thousands of people in our social networks, spreading good, positive and respectful messages about the amazing work performed by the men and women of the US armed forces.

It seems counter-intuitive:  take a dozen, well-connected communications professionals – people who are tied tightly to their smart phones, tablets, laptops and to their online networks – and send them 100 miles offshore into an environment where they are completely cut off from the rest of the world – no Internet, no cell signal, no Wi-Fi.  Yet, interestingly, it turns out Steve Fiebing, Deputy Public Affairs Officer and Coordinator of the Distinguished Visitor Embark Program in San Diego knows exactly what he is doing.
What happened is kind of amazing.   To start, none of us were distracted – instead of being eyes down on our devices, we were paying full attention to what was going on around us.  And, we were fully engaged in the activities, the discussions and the dialog.  And, we began to fall back on basic human interaction – we introduced ourselves, we shook hands, we looked into peoples’ eyes, and we talked – you know, real conversation.
 
Steve will likely admit that he first has safety in mind.  You can’t have a bunch of citizens wandering around the world’s most dangerous work environment – the deck of an aircraft carrier, with jets screaming in at 150 mph just feet away – and have those people distracted by sending text messages and tweets.  Trust me – safety is everyone’s job on an aircraft carrier.   And Steve will also be practical – the CVN-70 is one of the world’s largest warships, so with secrecy in mind, open Wi-Fi networks and Internet access have to be carefully managed (there were rooms where they had to clear sensitive, classified material before we entered).

But in the end, I think the Navy understands implicitly that the best way to tell their story is to totally immerse their guests into the ship’s routine and operations and let them experience it real and raw.  Because when you find yourself deep inside an aircraft carrier with 5,000 men and women doing their jobs protecting this country’s freedom, you quickly understand the kinds of messages I think the Navy wanted our social media group to spread to our networks.
 
There are a couple of valuable communications lessons that were learned from this aspect of the CVN-70 embark that translate very nicely to the world of corporate communications:

First, your people are your organization’s best asset.  The men and women of CVN-70 are the best ambassadors of the US Navy.  They are committed, happy, serious, determined and very proud of what they are doing.  And the way they communicate that is far more credible than their officers possibly can.   Translate that to industry:  company employees are often the best asset of any business, and they can tell a company’s story best – don’t isolate them…leverage them.

Second, a planned tour works best when your guests are fully immersed in the environment.   I’ve been on so many plant tours over my career where media, analysts, and customers are behind rope lines and safety glass and far from the factory floor.  If the Navy can figure out how to bring distinguished visitors into the middle of a flight deck, then those of us in public relations can get our influencers into the middle of our company’s operations better than we are doing today. 

Lastly, take a page from Steve’s playbook – cut people off from the distractions of the world and give them a chance to fully engage.  Telling the story of CVN-70 was easier because our group was fully focused on what was happening around us, and not distracted by the buzz of the latest text or tweet.   Imagine how effective your next business meeting might be if everyone simply shut off the devices and concentrated on the topic at hand.

On a personal note:  I’m as guilty as most of you of being addicted to my device.  It’s always in my hand, I’m looking at it at dinner, in bed, in meetings – I can’t stop, and it’s a bad habit.  Perhaps it’s not so bad because everyone around me is doing the same thing.   Here’s the problem:  life passes you by.

So let me tell you about my personal lesson out there 150 miles southwest of San Diego in the middle of the ocean.  For the first time in a long time, I had to put the device away and focus on the people around me.  Walking through the passageways of that great ship, I simply loved meeting the crew members who make the USS Carl Vinson America’s favorite carrier.   I found myself saying hello, thanking these young men and women for their service, stopping to shake hands, meeting the eyes of passing sailors and saying hello and smiling – these are things I just don’t do enough because I’m too busy looking at my damn iPhone.  Instead of texting and tweeting, I sat at breakfast with a master chief from Philadelphia, talked about our kids, asked about his 18 years of service, and talked about life…and it felt good.
 
I’ve had a corporate client for the past 14 months that is in the communications and collaboration industry.   The people at Unify often say:  “business begins with a conversation.”  It’s true.  On the CVN-70, a group of some of the world’s most “connected” people were disconnected for 24 hours and experienced something similar – as human beings, we are at our best when we look each other in the eye and have a conversation.   Too often, we hide behind email and technology – letting the devices do the work of interaction.

Put down the device once in a while and engage…my unexpected lesson from 24 hours with the men and women of the United States Navy.

 

The US Navy and Social Media / PR Best Practices

Posted on January 18, 2014 at 11:06 AM Comments comments (25)
You might ask:  What does the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson have to do with public relations and social media?   Well, I'm going to tell you...

Next week, I'm joining a group of social media experts to spend 24 hours on CVN-70, one of America's nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, as part of the Navy's Distinguished Visitors Program.   The Navy will tell you that the DV Program is a great way to expose people to the Navy's mission and its amazing team, and that it has been bringing visitors to Navy ships for years...which is true.  

But thanks to the efforts of some very savvy and smart people, the DV Program has become a "best practices" example of the power of social media and public relations.   Corporate communications professionals should take note, because the Navy has done something really powerful.  Now the Navy, under the direction of Steve Fiebing, Deputy Public Affairs Officer for the Commander, Naval Air Forces - Pacific, US Pacific Fleet, and working closely with Dennis Hall (@AvereGroup), has leveraged the DV Program to bring social media experts and bloggers out to US Navy ships underway, understanding that those bloggers could extend the reach of Navy PR programs to thousands, tens of thousands, and potentially even hundreds of thousands of new readers using the power of social media.   

Conceived with the cooperation of renowned social media expert Guy Kawasaki, Dennis helped the Navy understand how the DV Program could create embark opportunities for bloggers that could extend awareness of the Navy's mission and people, and help a much wider audience gain an appreciation for how America extends freedom and strength globally on the high seas.   

Next week, I will join a group of social media thought leaders and spend 24 hours on the USS Carl Vinson, now undergoing training exercises off the California Coast.   Just underway after departing its home port of San Diego earlier this month, CVN-70 is one of the world's largest ships, home to 5,000 men and women, and 60+ aircraft.  This ship is 1,092 feet long, and is as wide as 252 feet on her flight deck...and can move faster than 35 miles per hour (30+ knots). Part of the Nimitz class of ships, the USS Carl Vinson is powered by two nuclear reactors and cost more than $4.5 billion to construct.  You may remember the ship as the carrier to which Osama Bin Laden's remains were taken for burial at sea .  (For more information on the Navy's aircraft carriers, click here and you can also visit CVN-70 at their Facebook page and Twitter account). 

The blogger group I will be joining will gather at the base in San Diego at Coronado  and board a C-2a Greyhound cargo plane to be flown to CVN-70 and we'll land aboard "catching the wire" just like can be seen in this video.   

For 24 hours, we'll observe the officers and crew of the carrier conduct flight operations and operate this massive symbol of America's global power while underway.  I hope to learn a lot about how this crew handles fire and EMS emergencies on board, and share those stories with my friends back at the West Grove Fire Company where I serve as volunteer firefighter and EMT.  

And when our 24 hours is complete, we'll get strapped back into our Greyhound and get catapulted off the bow of CVN-70 for the flight back to San Diego, just like this (note how the wings are unfolded just before take off, and, yes, I'm nervous).  

I'm honored to be selected and even more honored to get to experience 24 hours with the men and women of the USS Carl Vinson.  Everyday, around the world, sailors of the US Navy are conducting operations while we go about our daily business.  Most of the time (except in times of crisis), their mission is largely invisible to all of us, which is why the DV Program is such an exceptional public relations concept -- allowing those of us with a global social media platform to tell their story from behind the scenes.  

Embedding people into the Navy's daily life and allowing those people to discuss their experiences on a broad scale will help so many gain a better understanding of the Navy's mission.  This is exactly the kind of approach that demonstrates the power and scale of social media.   And this approach is not only outstanding for the Navy, it works in the corporate world as well.

My friend Mark Yolton who introduced me to Dennis is a social media guru from the Silicon Valley.  He now works at Cisco, but was a co-worker with me at SAP years ago. Mark helped build SAP's online community (SAP Community Network) of developers at SAP (numbering in excess of one million members).  Mike Prosceno worked with me at SAP in Corporate Communications an developed a blogger relations program that became a power voice for SAP (and a respected best-practices approach to social media in the IT industry).  Both Mike and Mark taught me a lot about what I know in social media --- but also demonstrated to me how social media can be an amazing way to extend the reach of traditional communications programs for large companies (just the way the US Navy is using blogger embarks and the DV Program to extend their reach via social media).  

Next week I'll be joined by:



Already these professionals have begun communicating about our pending visit to America's Favorite Carrier (as the USS Carl Vinson is known).  You can find our tweets and blogs at this hashtag:  
  I encourage you to read their stories and extend our voices with your own comments, retweets and blogs.   


Back when I was just a little boy, my mother and father operated a business known as Howard Wohl Associates.  They had the Navy as a major client, producing cruise books for aircraft carriers (think of them as like high school yearbooks done for each of the ships' deployments).  So visiting CVN-70 is a bit like "coming home" for me now as Wohl Communications.  I never have visited a carrier even in port, and I know that flying out to one is a rare experience for a civilian. I look forward to sharing the experience with my followers.

More importantly, I look forward to highlighting how the Navy does [email protected] and how those lessons can be applied by companies and organizations around the world.   Stay tuned -- it's gonna be good!

Bill

Posted on February 10, 2013 at 12:59 PM Comments comments (15)
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