In New York City, Fleet Week usually meant the streets south of 50th Street or so in Manhattan would be filled with sailors roaming the streets looking for a good time.
I didn't know what LA Fleet Week would be like—but that's probably because LA has never had a Fleet Week before.
I did know that free tours would be available of two visiting vessels, docked at the Port of LA—the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer and the amphibious assault ship USS America.
But it was only once I got to the front of the line that I found out that it was the USS America, visiting from San Diego, that I'd get to see.
This is the fourth American warship to be named after our country, and its crest carries a motto that almost appeared on the U.S, seal in 1780: BELLO VEL PACE PARATUS (Prepared in War or in Peace).
Fleet Week is generally associated with the U.S. Navy, but actually the country's two Sea Services—the Navy and Marines—come together on the USS America for amphibious warfare.
At 844 feet in length, the ship can accommodate more than 3000 military personnel living on board...
...which is a good thing, since they've got their own medic (including dental care) and firefighting teams.
We entered the vessel into its cargo area for land vehicles (like Light Armored Vehicles LAV-25A2)...
...and began the seemingly endless climb to the flight deck.
This particular ship is centered on aviation...
...specifically, Marine Corps aircraft that need to land and launch out of here for its assault missions.
The behemoth can hold 1.3 million gallons of fuel (for its gas turbine engine), although it can also be propelled, in part, by electrical power.
It's so big that it's got elevators for the aircraft it carries, and steep driveways for vehicles to transport people from one deck to another.
The ship itself can travel at speeds in excess of 20 knots (about 23 mph), but it runs at its most fuel-efficient at around 12 knots (13.8 mph).
Nobody is going to chase an enemy—or escape one—by driving this ship.
And that's why the flight deck—which is like a miniature airfield at sea—is so important.
The USS America is considered a "big deck" ship...
...capable of accommodating the newest and biggest of the Marine expeditionary aircraft—now and in the future.
For now, that means the Bell Boeing V-22B Osprey...
...which can refuel itself in the air an unlimited number of times...
...which means it can keep going until the crew needs a rest...
...or, as our Marine host says, "til the pilot runs out of snacks."
It can carry 24 troops who are loaded up for combat as well as the same amount of cargo as a turboprop airplane—but because it's a tiltrotor, it can take off and land vertically like a helicopter.
And if you happen to be on the well deck when that's happening, you've got to beware of both rotors and jet blast.
The Bell AH-1Z Viper was actually an upgraded model from its predecessor, now having a four-blade rotor system (as well as twin engine and a front and rear cockpit for two pilots).
It's currently considered the most advanced "attack helicopter" in the world.
Ready for combat since 2010, it's considered both "lethal" and "survivable," with infrared night vision avionics that can, as they say, "turn night into day."
Also part of the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 (HMLA-369) is the Bell UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter...
...presented to us by a member of the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (VMM-164) out of Camp Pendleton.
As a utility helicopter, this bad boy can attack from the air and on the ground—as well as transport troops, evacuate the injured, and act as a control center.
It's 84 percent identical to the Viper, only it can carry more crew members and it can't launch missiles. It has to rely on rockets and mounted machine guns.
Of course, when the U.S. military talks about warfare—especially when it comes to killing people—it's all about euphemisms like "antipersonnel."
Not all of the aircraft on the USS America is a killing machine, however. The US Navy 166328 Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk (S-70A) is used primarily for rescue and other support services.
It's operated by the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (or HelSeaCombatron) TWO THREE, normally stationed at Naval Air Station North Island on Coronado Island in San Diego. They're nicknamed the "Wildcards" because, as they say, "Wildcards never fold."
Whether you're a Marine taking aim or a Naval officer cleaning up the mess, it's not an easy job. You can serve, protect, support, attack, or assault, and it's all pretty ugly. Even when we're in supposed "peacetime," it never feels very peaceful.
I hate the fact that it's necessary, but I'm glad to know that if somebody else out there decides to declare war on us, there's a battalion out there that's ready to fight back. I'm glad that somebody knows how to fly these things and survive, and I'm glad it doesn't have to be me.
And for that, I thank them all for their service.
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