UACES Facebook Division of Agriculture administrator hits the deck – and hard: 24 hours on an aircraft carrier
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Division of Agriculture administrator hits the deck – and hard: 24 hours on an aircraft carrier

By Dave Edmark
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast facts:
* Navy’s Distinguished Visitor Embark program brings educators, executives on board
* Rick Roeder of Division of Agriculture visits sailors, discusses agri opportunities
* Visitors experience carrier life on flight deck and in close quarters

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(692 words)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Rick Roeder was shot and captured on the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Navy did it all.

The shooting was actually the experience of being shot into the air – an activity known as a catapult – on a Navy C-2A cargo aircraft. The capture happened when the plane landed on the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and was caught by a tailhook (an arrested landing).

Dressed in protective gear, participants in the Navy’s Distinguished Visitor Embark program bring out their smartphones to record the action on the flight deck.

“I felt what it’s like to decelerate from 105 mph to a complete stop in two seconds,” said Roeder, the associate director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “I was strapped in with a three-point seat belt and facing backwards to avoid whiplash.” 

Roeder was on board the carrier for about 24 hours in early November as a guest of the Navy’s Distinguished Visitor Embark program. His group comprised 16 people including administrators from other universities, representatives of educational organizations and corporate executives. The program is an effort to increase public understanding of the Navy by allowing the visitors to see what it takes to operate a carrier at sea and to return home and describe their experience. 

Roeder took advantage of his visit to speak to some sailors about their experiences. “I wanted them to know about educational and career opportunities in agriculture after they complete their Navy service,” he said. 

The Stennis is a sturdy carrier at 1,092 feet long supporting a 4.5-acre flight deck, but Roeder was able to feel right away that this was not solid ground. “I knew I was on the ocean. There was a gentle movement,” he said. 

His group went to the captain’s reception area where they were introduced to the ship’s executive officer, Capt. Kavon Hakimzadeh, who explained his duties in charge of the ship’s day-to-day operations. Roeder’s group learned that the carrier has 30 nationalities represented among its crew, with 3,000 personnel on board to operate the carrier and 2,000 to handle the aviation functions. The average age on board is 23. 

On the flight deck, Roeder’s group observed several catapult takeoffs and arrested landings. Everyone dresses to keep any skin from being exposed and has head gear to muffle the noise. But anyone there could still feel the full throttle of the afterburners, he said. “The noise was so loud it pounded you in the chest, even with all the gear on.” 

Roeder described the takeoffs and landings as “a fine choreographed ballet” with activities being communicated by hand signals and the colors of the crew members’ shirts that signify their individual responsibilities. On a deck no more than 257 feet wide, there’s no margin for error available. As takeoffs and landings continue, helicopters are airborne nearby and ready to move in for an immediate rescue operation if an accident occurs. 

Moving to the bridge, the group was introduced to Capt. Michael Wettlaufer, commanding officer of the Stennis. “He spoke highly of the young people on board, their commitment and training,” Roeder said, noting the dedication he observed among the crew in their off hours. “They work 10- to 14-hour days, then in their free time they’re working out. I was impressed with how physically fit they were.” 

After sunset, the group observed more takeoffs and landings amid the extra challenges that nightfall brings. The visitors met Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, the commander of the John C. Stennis Strike Group. The aircraft carrier is one of several ships in the vicinity including destroyers and cruisers that make up the strike group in a synchronized mission that includes sustained air operations and maritime interdiction. 

Following an overnight stay in a 140-square-foot officer’s stateroom – below the flight deck where the takeoffs and landings could easily be heard through the night – Roeder awoke at 5:30 a.m. to have breakfast with the ship’s chief petty officers, who run the various departments on board. His breakfast was one of 20,000 meals that would be served during the day.

The Stennis was sailing off the West Coast near San Diego. The ship will head to the waters of the Middle East after Jan. 1 and will stay there for six to seven months. 

For more information about the Division of Agriculture, visit


The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. 


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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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