On the Waterfront – A Tale of a Great Enterprise

(Silverdale, Washington; Oct. 15, 2020) – The retired aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) had a profound affect on my time at sea, and her deactivation in 2012 foretold my own retirement from the Navy in 2017.

Pretty heavy stuff, especially considering I never once set foot aboard her!

I joined the Navy to go to sea. I wanted to roam the waves, see the world and be part of remarkable things. You can imagine my conflicted emotions when my first set of orders was to a land-based patrol squadron in Spain. I had begged for orders to Enterprise or several other ships; I had not begged for shore duty, even if it was overseas shore duty. Still, Spain would be cool, and I was in naval aviation, my favorite branch of the Navy.

The Great Spider of Irony began weaving his web of mischief, however.

While in Spain, my habit of photographing everything landed me in my squadron’s public affairs office. This led me to graduating from photo school as a Navy Photographer’s Mate before being assigned to VF-213, an F-14 Tomcat squadron. My primary job was maintaining the jet’s reconnaissance camera and laser targeting systems (and associate support systems). I carried a camera in my flight deck tool pouch to use for photojournalism whenever I had a moment, but my time was largely taken up being an airplane mechanic.

The Great Spider of Irony now tipped the first of his many hands!

VF-213 deployed aboard the carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the summer of 2001. We were two days out from the Persian Gulf when the horrible 9/11 attacks happened.

I rolled out of my rack the morning of Sept. 16, 2001, stumbling through Carl Vinson to breakfast. Like 5,000 other sailors, I was trying to wake up. Later, as I was passing through the hangar deck to my shop, I glanced out one of the elevator doors and stopped dead: right next to us was Enterprise!

Myself with USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in the background. Enterprise was in formation with USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). I was a Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class attached to VF-213 at the time. 16 September 2001.

Enterprise had been on her way home from deployment when 9/11 happened. The Big E turned around and came back to join us until USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) could deploy to the area.

The Great Spider of Irony struck again when I received orders to Guam following my time at VF-213. Due to changes in the Navy, my assignment history got extremely shore-duty heavy. There simply were not enough sea-going billets for several years, so I was a landlocked sailor from 2002 until I finally joined the crew of USS Ponce (LPD 15) in 2010.

I encountered Enterprise in 2011 during my second deployment. Ponce was part of USS Kearsarge’s (LHD 3) amphibious ready group, or ‘ARG.’ We had been on deployment since July 2010, and were back in the Mediterranean when I was told the Kearsarge ARG would do a formation and photo op with the Enterprise CSG.

Enterprise seen ahead of USS Ponce (LPD 15) during the formation on Feb. 16, 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Nathanael Miller / RELEASED)

I remember joking with Ponce’s captain, Cmdr. Etta Jones, that Enterprise must be my lucky charm. After all, this was the second time I’d ever deployed, and once again I was doing a formation with the Big E. Captain Jones laughed before shooing me off Ponce’s bridge to go take photos. I got some interesting shots and digital illustrations from Ponce, but I neglected to have anyone take a photo of me with Enterprise again. Darn it.

Multi-image composite panorama I shot of Kearsarge (forward, left) and Enterprise (forward, center) in formation with Ponce on Feb. 16, 2011. (U.S. Navy digital illustration by MC1 Nathanael Miller / RELEASED)

I finally decided Enterprise really did posses some weird, mystical hold over my career when I bumped into her again in 2012 (good thing my insurance covers all these collisions with an aircraft carrier!). I was now attached to the Navy Public Affairs Support Element (NPASE) East. NPASE East is responsible for supplying ‘sea-op detachments’ (or ‘dets’) of media specialists to bring the carrier’s own media center up to full strength during deployment. I was head of NPASE East’s det aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) in 2012.

You can guess what the Great Spider of Irony was setting me up for.

Myself as a Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) while in formation with USS Enterprise (CVN 65) as Enterprise completes if final deployment. Sept. 27, 2012.

‘IKE’ did a formation shoot with the Big E. This was a historic occasion because Enterprise was completing her final deployment. The ship would be deactivated in late 2012 so the shipyard could begin stripping out the nuclear fuel, and then Enterprise would be officially decommissioned in 2017. I joked with my buddies that Enterprise’s final return to homeport meant I’d never go to sea again myself. After all, I quipped, every deployment I was on had a major formation with Enterprise. If the Big E was never going to sea again, how could I?

That joke was turned back upon me by the Great Spider of Irony when I rolled to shore duty at NPASE East in 2013 and became the training manager. I realized I was ready to move on and retire from the Navy during that three-year assignment. My retirement date was set for late 2017, shortly after Enterprise’s official decommissioning ceremony (and just a few weeks prior to Ponce’s decommissioning!).

My long-running joke about my sea service being tied to Enterprise’s sea service turned out to be one of the more subtle, direct, accidental, and completely unintended prophecies I’ve ever uttered! If, as some believe, there are no coincidences, then, somehow, Enterprise really did exert a tidal force on my own career.

Or, it really all is just an amazing coincidence! You decide…

Still, whatever the reality of it all, the Great Spider of Irony gave me a great gift. After all, I am the only sailor I’ve ever met who seems to have been oddly affected by a ship he was never on (I never even set foot aboard her as a visitor!). This odd confluence of Enterprise and I’s timelines makes for one of the best sea stories I can bring from the waterfront!

U.S. 5th FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY (Sept. 27, 2012) The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) is alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) during a passing exercise. Enterprise and Eisenhower are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman/Released)

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Nathanael Miller’s Photojournalism Archives:

Instagram: @sparks1524

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sparks_photography/

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