How many people can claim that you flew to San Diego and then transferred onto a Navy helicopter and landed on a ship 80 miles west of the California coastline.
You may think there’s absolutely nothing west of San Diego except a whole lot of water. Lodi businessmen Russ Fields and Ryan Sherman flew 80 miles west of civilization, landed on a Naval destroyer and spent a day learning was life was like in the Navy.
“It was really a trip of a lifetime,” said Sherman, a Lodi Realtor and a partner at Fields Family Wines on School Street. “The helicopter ride out was a pretty amazing experience.”
It’s part of a Navy program to bring lay people on board and show them what sailors do and how their tax dollars are spent for defense. Elk Grove resident Dennis Hall nominated Fields and Sherman, and Navy officials approved their participation.
Hall was a volunteer federal appointee to a U.S. Department of Defense committee, called “Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve,” until he left the committee on Jan. 1, 2010. However, the Department of Defense said Hall could still nominate people for the Navy program.
As it turned out, Fields, a Sacramento attorney in addition to being Sherman’s winery partner, had a son about to begin winter break from University of California, San Diego.
“He was on quarter break,” Fields said. “I didn’t want him driving home, so Ryan and I flew to San Diego — we sell a lot of wine there anyway.”
That happened to be just the time that Fields and Sherman were scheduled to participate in the day-long Navy Leaders to Sea program.
They stayed at a hotel in Coronado island, about a block away from the Naval air station where they embarked on a helicopter early the next morning.
“The trip in and out was rocking,” Fields said. “The color of the ocean under the propellers was a beautiful turquoise color. The wind was rocking when you land onto the ship.”
Sherman and Fields landed right on the ship, called the USS Spruance. The spent the whole day on the Naval destroyer and got to talk to officers and sailors alike. There were 250 to 280 people on the ship.
“You talk about military sacrifice — they’re away from their family six to eight months at a time,” Fields said. “There was no complaining, they were very respectful and they know their stuff.”
The greatest excitement for Sherman and Fields came when they were allowed to actually drive the ship in the middle of the Pacific.
“I got to steer, and Russ ran the throttle,” Sherman said. “The other really neat experience was to sit in the weapons command center.”
“It’s a missile destroyer with 89 missiles on it,” Fields said.
Hall, who arranged the trip, quoted an ancient Chinese proverb pertaining to experiential learning — “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”
Hall added, “The Leaders to Sea program takes this proverb to heart by implementing experiential learning by actively engaging participants in hands-on activities in the company of Navy and Marine Corps leadership and other personnel.”
The guests toured the engine room of the USS Spruance destroyer while underway in the Pacific Ocean where they spent more than a half-hour. They were immensely impressed with how passionately the sailors expressed their pride and professionalism in explaining how the sophisticated power plants drive their warship, Hall said. Other areas they toured were the medical ward, mass-casualty center, bakery and bridge.
Because Sherman, Fields and five other guests were on the ship, prime rib was served for lunch, which the guests had with the captain. The captain was a little nervous about something as good as prime rib being on the menu because, to the sailors, it’s often a sign of bad news, such as deployment to the Persian Gulf.
At the end of the day, Sherman and Fields were flown by helicopter back to Coronado, where they met up with Fields’ son, William Fields, and drove back to Lodi the same night, making for the longest weekends ever.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.