VIRGINIA, USA — The USS Gerald Ford is not only the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, it’s also the world's biggest. The $13 billion ship is almost four football fields long, has more than 20 decks and, as one sailor from San Diego told CBS 8, it's like a floating city.
It’s homeport is Naval Station Norfolk, and we were given a unique opportunity to tour the ship as part of the base’s "Sailor for a Day" experience.
You know aircraft carriers provide platforms to launch strikes on coastal and inland targets, protect the world's seas from terrorists, and can serve as a base for delivering humanitarian aid. But did you know that the 2,700 men and women who live on the ship also have relaxing lounges, gyms, and food basically available at all hours?
Among those calling it home, is San Diego State grad, ENS Paula Niederland. “I worked in PR for about a year and half in San Diego and I just wanted to do something more impactful,” she said about joining the Navy.
Niederland says there's never a dull moment, even when they're seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
“Sometimes when we're out at sea, we'll do 5k's around the flight deck and I think that's so cool. We're running these 5k's in the middle of the ocean right now - running a 5K - how crazy!," Niederland said.
Also crazy, the small staircases to get from one deck to the next, the long, skinny hallways with obstacles all over the place, and the many doors that seem to come out of nowhere.
Thankfully they have maps on wall! But you won't need a map to get around your sleeping quarters because it’s small.
The Navy showed us one time room that sleeps 21 sailors. They get a bed, a locker, and a few spaces to get creative for storage. Because shifts run all hours, the room has a red light allowing sailors to sleep while still providing light for those who need it. Each room also comes with its own attached bathroom, which is a new and much appreciated feature on aircraft carriers.
Other areas that are appreciated include, the ships three gyms, the convenience store, and several places to get food.
A popular item in the menu is called a hamster, a ship's version of Chicken Cordon Bleu. A popular place to eat is the main mess hall, which is designed to look like a football field.
That's to honor the ship's namesake, Former President Ford, who played football at the University of Michigan. You can learn that and more at the museum onboard that’s dedicated to him.
"We have just about everything but a bowling alley here to be honest with you,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate William Black. And if you’re wondering what an aviation boatswain’s mate is, William has a great explanation. “So if you've ever been to the airport and then you see the guys with the wands and they're directing the planes and stuff like that, that's essentially part of my job," Black said.
It's an important job with unpredictable hours, in sometimes less than ideal conditions. But Black wouldn't trade it for anything. “It's really cool that my office is standing next to multimillion dollar jets, directing them and then feeling the compression of the thrusts and everything and watching them launch and take off,” he said.
When out to sea, it seems like some type of training is always taking place, from live fire exercises to general quarters drills, where the crew has to stop whatever they're doing and immediately respond to possible at-sea emergency situations.
One thing the Navy made clear during our tour is that they’re always preparing for the worst.
WATCH RELATED: On the Homefront | An inside look at life in the Navy