Navy to promote itself during historic hoops game
The fighter jets are gone from the flight deck, and in their
place is a gleaming basketball court surrounded by bright green
bleachers – a stark contrast to the gray, 95,000-ton Navy warship
that buried Osama bin Laden at sea.
Friday’s historic North Carolina-Michigan State basketball game
aboard the USS Carl Vinson couldn’t have come at a more opportune
time for a Navy facing deep defense cuts.
Officials plan to seize the spotlight to showcase the Navy and
its awe-inspiring, multi-billion-dollar aircraft carriers to the
more than 3 million viewers expected to watch the Veterans Day game
The country’s basketball-fan-in-chief, President Barack Obama,
will be onboard for the game.
With the war in Iraq officially over and the one in Afghanistan
winding down, the military is almost certain to shrink. All
branches of service are feeling pressure to tout the importance of
their missions and their equipment.
Navy officials say they know a basketball game will not change
the budget debate, but it can’t hurt efforts to get the American
public excited about their branch of service as its chiefs lobby
Congress to avoid cuts that could jeopardize its future military
The role of the Nimitz-class supercarriers in modern warfare has
been part of that discussion with critics questioning whether
anti-ship weapons have turned them into white elephants that are
too expensive to risk losing in a war. In 2015, the Navy plans to
add to its fleet the Gerald R. Ford, the lead ship of a new
three-ship class of supercarriers. Each is expected to cost about
Capt. Bruce H. Lindsey, the Vinson’s commanding officer, said
viewers Friday will get a firsthand look at just how important
carriers are to military operations, from sending aircraft into
Iraq and Afghanistan, to supporting relief efforts during disasters
such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan. The program will
feature snippets about Naval life aboard the 1,092-foot floating
”It’s an awesome opportunity to showcase Naval aviation and
your Navy,” he said.
The Navy wants to show Americans how their tax dollars are being
spent, said Rear Admiral Dennis Moynihan, the Navy’s chief
”It’s their aircraft carrier, they have paid for it,” Moynihan
said. ”They are the shareholders, and it’s important they
understand how we are spending those dollars in the Navy … it is
sort of a report to shareholders.”
Critics say the United States now has too many carriers, and the
Navy can do the same missions with smaller, more economical
With 11 carriers, the U.S. Navy has more than the rest of the
navies on the planet combined, said Christopher Preble, a Navy
veteran and foreign policy expert at the Cato Institute. Most are
Nimitz-class vessels, the world’s largest warships.
The amount of money needed to build a carrier could be used to
build more than a half-dozen destroyer ships, Preble said.
”I’m a huge basketball fan, and I think it’s good for the
sailors who are going to get to see a good game and it will be neat
for the players,” he said. ”But I don’t think the Navy will be
able to use this to sell the idea as to why it needs aircraft
The game will be watched by a prime Navy recruiting market –
young people. Magic Johnson and James Worthy will serve as honorary
captains for their alma maters at the game, attended by 7,000
mostly active-duty military personnel off the coast of San
Obama will have the seat of his choice, but he won’t be arriving
on a jet like then-President George W. Bush did when he made an
arrested landing in a fixed-wing aircraft on the USS Abraham
Lincoln in 2003. Bush used the ship as a setting to announce the
end of major combat operations in Iraq under a banner hung on the
warship reading ”Mission Accomplished.” Opponents criticized it
as a publicity stunt.
Morale Entertainment Foundation approached the Navy last summer
with the idea of a carrier basketball game and offered to foot the
bill. The Navy agreed on the condition the event not interrupt its
scheduled deployments or compromise national security, Moynihan
Sailors prepared for the upcoming deployment of the Vinson in a
few weeks while workers built the basketball court and arena on the
flight deck of the floating fortress docked at the Navy base in
Coronado with sweeping views of downtown San Diego.
A second basketball court is being built in the hangar deck in
case of rain – which is in the forecast. North Carolina’s Tar Heels
prepared its freshmen players for the opener by having them dance a
routine on the deck while wearing life preservers. Both teams will
wear camouflage uniforms.
Walter Chatlin III, a sailor from Houston who was deployed when
the Vinson buried bin Laden at sea, watched forklifts carry the
basketball court’s floor boards Tuesday and said it all seemed
”I’m an operations specialist so seeing you know, seeing the
jets land on the flight deck all through the deployment, and now
we’re going to have a college basketball game on it, seems pretty
cool,” he said. ”We need some R and R time … We need to get a
little break before we get deployed again.”
The ship is named after former U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson, a Georgia
Democrat known as the father of the two-ocean Navy because of his
success in pushing through bills that greatly expanded and
modernized the Navy’s warship fleet during his time in Congress
from 1914 to 1965. He was chair of the House Armed Services
Committee when Congress authorized the procurement of the first
nuclear-powered aircraft carriers starting with the USS Enterprise
in the late 1950s.
Carriers became the backbone of U.S. sea power after WWII,
ferrying military might around the world in crises and conflicts in
such places as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.