A group of sailors stationed aboard the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier are in Aggieland, and today they will present the ship’s wheel to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.
The service members volunteered with the Brazos Valley Food Bank on Friday morning before a handful of George Bush School of Government and Public Service students had the opportunity to eat lunch with the sailors, discussing the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and its presidential namesake.
Five enlisted sailors and three naval commissioned officers discussed with the students their experience aboard the only aircraft carrier in history whose namesake participated in its christening. The ship was christened in October 2006, and since that time the Bush family has been actively involved with the vessel, often interacting with its occupants.
Capt. Sean Bailey told the Bush School students that he doesn’t believe another living namesake of a ship had a closer relationship with that craft than George H.W. Bush and his family. Sailors have been able to meet the family over the years, and the president enjoyed coming aboard. His daughter, Dorothy Bush Koch, visited as recently as October and plans to be at the library this weekend to accept the presentation of the wheel from the sailors. The USS George H. W. Bush also is the only aircraft carrier named after a naval aviator, Bailey noted.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Alyssa Lewis and Petty Officer 1st Class Paris Freeman expressed what being on board the carrier has meant to them these past few years. Though quarters aboard a naval vessel are tight and not always the most comforting, she and her other enlisted colleagues expressed an appreciation of the fact that their home on the ocean is named after former President Bush, who died in November.
“For me, it’s a great honor just based off of his accomplishments in the military and on the outside,” Freeman said. “It’s just an awesome experience. I love that carrier. It’s my first carrier, and I wasn’t too fond of [the idea of] being on a bigger ship, but when I saw all the tradition and how we stay so strong together, it’s just awesome.”
Capt. Christopher Hill shared a personal encounter with Bush that occurred many years before the carrier’s existence.
“The first time I met him was in, I think, 1998, and I was on a different ship,” he relayed. “We pulled into the United Arab Emirates, and they wouldn’t let the crew off the ship. We wanted to go [on shore], so everyone was kind of mad about it. We had a special guest speaker. ... We waited, and [George H. W. Bush] showed up. He was kind of cool and started talking, and all he did was tell jokes the entire time. He went around and was high-fiving everybody. It was a really good experience, and it just changed my impression of him.”
Hill said he has been aboard many ships, and none compare to the one named for Bush, where an environment of unity and service is heavily encouraged.
Some of the crew from the USS George H. W. Bush were able to take part in the funeral services last fall, Bailey said, and that experience was particularly special.
“The ship was actually under way during the funeral time frame,” he said. “So we would’ve had a larger presence had we not been back and forth, but we were able to send about 100 sailors up to Andrews Air Force Base when they returned the president to Washington, D.C. At the state funeral, we had our sailors out there on the tarmac in formation. For the sailors who attended, it had a lot of meaning to be up there, and I think what they really appreciated was the fact that President George W. Bush took the time to come by and recognize them, and express his thanks and support.”
At 1:15 p.m. today the sailors will present the ship’s wheel on campus at the library rotunda.