Mom Sees What Navy Life Could be Like for Son
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, April 22, 2008 Since the fourth grade, Wendy Wachtell’s son, Jameson, has wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.
She thought his desire would wane with age, like wanting to be a fireman in the fourth grade. But it soon became clear that was what he wanted, she said. Now, with Jameson a sophomore in high school, conversations and considerations for his future are taking a more serious tone.
Naturally, she conceded, as a mother, Wachtell is concerned about her son joining a military force while the nation is at war.
But, yesterday, as part the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, Wachtell stood on the deck of the USS George Washington about 80 miles off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and watched some of the Navy’s finest at work.
Wachtell is vice president and program director of the Joseph Drown Foundation, which distributes $7 million annually to non-profit groups in the Los Angeles area. She is among 48 business, civic and educational leaders participating in the 75th Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, a secretary of defense-sponsored program for America's leaders interested in expanding their knowledge of the military and national defense.
“It gives me more confidence,” Wachtell said of her visit to the ship. “It is clear that everybody there understands their mission, understands their role, does their job well.
“They are impressive. They are confident. They are remarkable young men and women given incredible opportunities at very young ages,” she said. “If that is what [my son] chooses to do, as a mother I would support that entirely.”
A bit of bad luck turned around for her and about a dozen others who were to visit the ship on the second day of their journey. The Joint Civilian Orientation Conference group of about 50 was divided, with most leaving early in the morning after landing here from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
They flew to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier on planes used to shuttle mail, parts and personnel. But Wachtell and her group of about a dozen were left stranded when their delivery plane suffered electronic problems. While the problems didn’t affect the plane’s flight capabilities, the safety standards of the maintenance staff wouldn’t allow it off the ground.
As the crew worked to fix the problem, Wachtell and her group experienced another common aspect of military life: They sat in the airport and waited. And waited. And waited.
Because of logistics conflicts, no other planes or helicopters could return to retrieve the stranded crew. Late in the day, a deal was struck by the leaders of the ship and conference. The remaining participants could catch a ride to the ship via the same plane that took the others out.
But, the group would have to bypass their night’s stay and fancy dinner plans in a resort hotel to sleep in quarters on the ship for the night and dine with sailors in the galley. They would return to port when the ship docked the next day.
The group also was to get a front-row seat to watch the dangerous night takeoffs and landings on the aircraft carrier. It was a rare treat for civilians.
There was no hesitation. The group jumped at the opportunity.
As a result, Wachtell ate where Navy officers eat, slept where Navy officers sleep, and saw firsthand what life in the Navy would be like for her son. She and the others were able to talk with many sailors, enlisted and officer alike, and were given a rare glimpse at some of the more intimate details of sailors’ work and living conditions.
“Do I wish for my son to be like those young men and women? Absolutely,” Wachtell said yesterday after her night on the ship. “As a mother, there will be nothing that will take away the fear. These are men and women who choose to put themselves in harm’s way to defend their country. That doesn’t mean that I don’t understand that it is critically important role and would be really proud of my son to do that.
“I would be extraordinarily proud if he chose to join these men and women,” she said.
Though, after standing on the flight deck only feet from where some the nation’s fastest and fiercest jets come screaming in for a landing and are yanked to a screeching halt in only 180 feet, Wachtell said she wasn’t sure if she wanted her son to become an aviator.
“They may be crazy,” she said with a laugh. “It takes a very particular personality to be able to do what those men and women do. It’s pretty extraordinary.”