THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME: MY VISIT TO AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER
I am forever grateful to Rear Admiral Dennis Velez, Commander Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 10, and everyone who serves with him. Because of them, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier and experience firsthand the day-to-day operations of this impressive Warship.
This was the experience of a lifetime. From the unexpected landing—going from 135 mph to 0 in two seconds—to witnessing the sheer magnitude of the initiative (there are over 5,000 members on board!), I was truly in awe. I was inspired by the great commitment to the responsibilities and highly specialized tasks of each person I met—including three TOPGUN pilots. I proudly dined with Admiral Velez and his Flag Aide and connected with them over our shared Puerto Rican heritage. I quietly reflected on George H. W. Bush’s life and legacy of service, which started when he enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday. And, of course, the catapult take-off left me speechless; the only way I can describe it is feeling as if I was being pulled into a black hole. As I prepared for it, I repeatedly told myself, “If Ellen Ochoa went to space, I can and will overcome the physical challenge of the catapult” (full disclosure: I suffer from vertigo!).
It was such a great honor to spend 24 hours with so many inspirational leaders that—as an optimizer—I wanted to find little ways to contribute, to contribute ‘mi granito de arena’. I can confidently share that I brought a smile to three Latinas at the carrier store by sharing how proud I was of them and giving them HISPA pins. I connected two young Colombian sailors who had not met and made sure I spoke to them about the importance of peer mentoring. I brought books written by dear friends to the carrier library to diversify their collection of literature and to pass on their amazing contributions. I left behind a ‘serigrafia’ de Puerto Rico so those who are missing home might unexpectedly find this picture and smile remembering their island.
Some have asked me, “What made you say yes to this trip?” I asked myself that, too—especially as we approached landing on the aircraft carrier! My answer? I am always searching for and providing leadership development opportunities for others, and I felt it was my turn to grow. It was my turn to learn from the leadership of individuals like Rear Admiral Velez, the Carrier’s Commanding Officer, Capt. David-Tavis Pollard and the Executive Officer, Capt. Nicholas C. DeLeo. I took in their core values and their vision to embody a legacy of service, grit, humility, and resilience.
These lessons, as always, bring me back to my own work and remind me of the HISPA Role Models. We all come from the public and private sectors, bring stories of grit and perseverance to others, and serve our community with humility. Like those I met at sea, HISPA Role Models are an invaluable group of leaders who together are changing the future of America—one story at a time.