Superintendent goes on dream trip

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Brian Ewert, Englewood school superintendent, put district issues on hold for a couple days in order to take advantage of the Navy’s invitation to spend Nov. 12 and 13 on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Regan.

“Getting the opportunity to make this trip is like winning the lottery,” he said. “The Navy invites educators and business leaders to spend time on Navy ships as part of the program they call Distinguished Visitor Trips. This trip offer was made to the Colorado Department of Education officials. They couldn’t go and they suggested I be given the opportunity since they felt I would try anything once.

“The local organizer called and, once we checked it out, I said yes as quickly as I could because I knew it would involve landing and taking off from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. It proved to be the trip of a lifetime.”

Ewert flew to San Diego Nov. 11, spent the night in Navy quarters and, the next day was escorted to the Naval Air Station at North Island for the flight to the carrier that was taking part in maneuvers about 200 miles off the coast.

“We were briefed for the flight and issued helmets and goggles before we took our seats facing the rear of the aircraft,” he said. “It was a bare-bones aircraft called a Greyhound. There were no windows in the plane and it was incredibly loud, which is why we wore helmets with ear protection.”

He said when the time came, the pilot told them they were about to land on the carrier deck and to be prepared what basically was a controlled crash.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Ewert said. “Oh, we did hit the deck hard and the tail hook stopped us immediately, but I didn’t think it was all that bad.”

The superintendent said the purpose of these trips is to introduce the public to the incredible high-tech positions and career paths in the Navy and to let them see firsthand that every job aboard the carrier is involved with science, technology, engineering and math.

“We saw state-of-the-art technology in action and we saw the highly technical tasks being done in every section of the ship we visited, from the captain’s bridge to the dining hall,” he said. “It appears every job aboard that ship requires a high-level knowledge of math and technology, as well as at least an understanding of science and engineering fundamentals.”

Savvy sailors

Ewert and the other 15 members of the group spent the next 26 hours on the carrier. He said they were escorted on visits to just about every section so they could view the vast array of skills needed for carrier operations.

“I was amazed how technologically savvy these 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds were, who were well qualified to help operate a $4.5 billion dollar aircraft carrier,” he said. “Just about every sailor I talked to was working on a bachelor’s degree, realizing it might take longer than four years to complete the requirements. Also, everyone we met had excellent leadership ability and communication skills.”

He said a Navy focus is that every sailor’s life centers around training, preparedness and professional development in order to become better at your job today than you were yesterday. He said everyone and every organization could learn and benefit from adopting a similar focus.

“Everyone aboard the carrier was constantly being monitored and evaluated,” Ewert said. “For example, there was a one-star admiral in charge and he was being evaluated by a two-star admiral on how he managed the carrier and the maneuvers.”

Benefit for companies

Another purpose of the trip was to showcase the skills of the personnel who will soon be returning to civilian life.

“The size of the military will soon be reduced, and the Navy stressed the fact all their people had high levels of technical training plus the high levels of communication skills. The also noted every man and woman adopts a dedicated work ethic so they will show up early and stay late to get the job done. All this is stressed as the Navy asks companies to take a look at veterans when hiring,” Ewert said. “The message also is, as the size of the military is being reduced, civilian companies can greatly benefit from giving these quality individuals a chance at a job when they leave the service.”

One of Ewert’s final experiences was leaving the carrier as the aircraft was catapulted off the deck and into the sky.

“I was excited about the takeoff,” he said. “We were facing the back of the aircraft as it pulled into position. The engines are brought up to full speed, they yell duck and the catapult sent the aircraft off the end of the deck. You have your arms wrapped around your chest and leaning back as we were launched. The force of gravity pushed me toward the back of the aircraft and also forced the air out of me for a couple seconds. But it was quick and when the g-force stopped we hit open air and you feel a sense of weightlessness. It was amazing. It was Mr. Toad’s wild ride and I’d do it again in a second.”

He said it was an experience he will never forget and there were lessons learned.

“I learned science, technology, engineering and mathematics education must begin in kindergarten in order for our kids to be prepared for the future,” he said. “All kids won’t go that way, but all kids should have grounding in those fields. The other thing that made me pause is how prepared our military personnel are to meet any circumstances. This takes constant training, evaluation and monitoring, which we need to practice and teach too.”

He said he has several connections with the Navy and with a professor from the University of Denver who was on the trip. His plans are to bring in guest speakers to stress the importance of STEM education as the students are preparing for the future.