Kalmick becomes honorary ‘Tailhooker’ after USS Theodore Roosevelt landing

Kalmick, sixth from right, is pictured here inside the Captain’s Quarters where he and the other delegates were presented with an “Honorary Tailhooker” certificate for successfully preparing for and undergoing the deceleration of a carrier landing, which slams visitors to a stop from 150 miles per hour to 0 in three seconds. Courtesy photo

Seal Beach council member invited to visit aircraft carrier

Few Americans will likely ever see an aircraft carrier up close, much less spend the night aboard and experience the G-forces of landing and taking off from the flight deck.

For Seal Beach Councilman Joe Kalmick, he seems to have been in the right place at the right time – again – as he has recently returned from a “once in a lifetime experience” of being an overnight crew member of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

Kalmick and a delegation of other elected officials and others were invited by the U.S. Navy to participate in this community relations project.

Kalmick said he was a bit surprised at the invitation from Seal Beach Naval Weapons station public information officer Gregg Smith, but said he jumped at the chance to participate with other elected officials, law enforcement officers and other guests from around the country.

The Navy’s Distinguished Visitor Embark Program allows elected officials and other leaders from across society an opportunity to connect with and learn about their Navy. They get to see first-hand the professionalism of our Sailors as they operate in a real-word environment, training for an upcoming overseas deployment, said Smith.

As a newly elected official with no previous Navy experience, representing an area directly adjacent to Navy ship operations in Anaheim Bay, Councilmember Kalmick was seen as a strong candidate for the program, he added.

Before being approved, Kalmick said he had to fill out a detailed application, “including giving them my social security number so I’m sure they know everything, even where I went to elementary school.”

Once approved, Kalmick said he and the other delegates met at Coronado Naval Air Station in San Diego for a safety briefing, which included the use of a special safety gear, including a helmet and other equipment that they were required to wear at certain points on the two-day trip.

Upon completion of the briefing and other processing tasks, the delegation boarded a special “Greyhound” class of transport plane, equipped with a “tailhook” so that the plane would be slammed to a halt once reaching the USS Roosevelt.

“It’s hard to explain,” says Kalmick, as he puts his hands behind his head to illustrate how the U.S. Navy told him to brace for impact as the special transport approached the moving carrier more than 100 miles in the Pacific off San Diego.

“The plane had no windows, but I was fortunate to be sitting close enough to the one porthole so I could see the carrier as we circled and prepared for landing,” said Kalmick this week. Once the pilot zeroed in on the flight deck, the transport began descending towards the ocean.

Now on board the flight out to the carrier, Kalmick said they sat facing backwards, which he found odd until the carrier landing when the “tailhook” grabbed the plane and slammed them almost to an immediate stop. Then, the impact. “Unless you go through it, the experience of going from 150 miles-per-hour to a dead stop in three seconds is pretty hard to describe,” says Kalmick. “It was almost like a feeling of weightlessness,” said Kalmick, “it was really a strange feeling.”

Kalmick said he and the remainder of his delegation were amazed from the moment they stepped off the plane and onto the floating array of high technology and military weaponry that is among the most sophisticated war machinery ever created.

The USS Roosevelt is a Nimitz class aircraft commissioned originally in 1986. It is almost as long as four football fields, (1092 feet), has a flight deck as wide as a football field and an administrative tower nearly 20 stories tall that includes the operations command, flight control, housing and so much more.

Kalmick said the delegation then began an overnight visit that included trekking up and down endless flights of stairs aboard the gigantic ship. “There are three high-speed elevators on the carrier,” he said, “but they are reserved for the planes.”

The USS Roosevelt supports several planes from the F-18 Super Hornets, which are strike aircraft that can project long range air power and safely return to the carrier, F-18 Growlers (special electronic warfare models), Hawkeye command and control aircraft, SeaHawk helicopters, anti-submarine helicopters and Greyhound cargo planes, the kind that carried Kalmick and the delegation back and forth to the carrier.

The USS Roosevelt is part of the Navy’s Strike Group Nine, so in addition to the carrier, there are a number of support vessels protecting the floating city, including destroyers, according to the U.S. Navy.

Kalmick proudly points to his phone where he was able to video flight deck operations of the F-18 Hornets revving up their jets to full throttle before the catapult mechanism is released, and he watched as the steam screams across the deck as the fighter is thrust into the air almost immediately.

Watching them take off was amazing, said Kalmick, but watching them land was at first nerve wracking. “The way the deck is angled,” he said, “it looks like they’re coming right at you.” He said there are four grappling wires strung across the deck for the plane’s tailhook to grab onto.

Precision flyers are able to lay it down on the third wire, he said, while any of the four will get you safely aboard the carrier.

The delegation was given the VIP treatment around the ship, said Kalmick, adding that they were honored to experience things that “even where some sailors on the ship never get to see. I never served in the military, so it was fascinating to see a military operation.”

The delegation ate three meals on their overnight carrier journey, said Kalmick, adding that they ate with a cross section of the sailors aboard the Roosevelt. “We ate with the officers in the officers’ mess hall, then with the ranking enlisted and once with the sailors themselves.”

Kalmick and the other members of the delegation spent the night on the ship, saying he shared a two-bed bunk “state room” with a Torrance, California police official.

Commanding officer Carlos Sardiello awarded Kalmick and the others with an “Honorary (USS THEDORE ROOSEVELT) Tailhooker” certificate, for “bravely and successfully preparing and completing an arrested landing,” and for “experiencing deceleration from 150 to 0 miles per hour in three seconds, thereby gaining an elementary understanding of the remarkable challenges and accomplishments of Naval Aviation.”

Following an action-packed overnight stay, the delegation put their safety gear back on, loaded up into the “dark tube” of a plane, said Kalmick, as they strapped back into the “Greyhound” and waited for the grappling hooks to throw them back into the air headed for Coronado Air Station and eventually back home.

Kalmick said this was a second “once in a lifetime” experience, with the other being witnessing the launch of the historic Apollo 11 from Cape Canaveral 50 years ago this week. After graduating from UCLA, Kalmick was working with a UCLA team of researchers employed by NASA and Kalmick watched the launch live 50 years ago this week.

The first term city council member said he came away from his experience on the USS Theodore Roosevelt impressed with the country’s ability to send a “floating military base” anywhere in the world. “Our military is an important necessity for the country,” said Kalmick, adding that “I was never a big fan of war, but I guess having this capability is the best way to avoid one.”