This Tudor Rose is no wilting flower
HMS Queen Elizabeth has a stem made of steel
As the van passed the inspection points, signs began to appear pointing the way to Gab Gab beach, a fitting name for a press conference it seemed.
The small group of visitors was picked up at the T. Stell Newman Visitor Center outside the U.S. Naval Base at the beginning of the adventure. Members of the media had been invited to attend a press conference with a group of high-ranking officials including Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio, aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Fleet Flagship of the Royal Navy.
Upon entering Guam’s 38,000 square acre Navy base, the movie "The Truman Show" comes to mind as the manicured landscape rolls by, people jog on paths, a small car dealership offers new and used vehicles, a Wendy’s offers Wendy-fare, arrows show the way to the gym, PX, counseling, childhood development, and other services offered to the residents.
Only a massive gray warship that came into view soon after entering the compound reminded the visitors where they were.
When asked how this base compares to others she’s lived on, the camo-clad van driver responded that it was one of the best. The only exception, she said, is the commissary. They don’t always have as much of a selection as the bases on the mainland.
After several minutes of driving on smooth roads (a stark contrast to the roads outside), the van arrived at Kilo Wharf and the visitors were met by a group of young, British, uniformed men, the HMS Queen Elizabeth looming overhead.
The crest of the first Queen Elizabeth, after whom the ship is named, is prominently displayed on the side of the bridge high above the dock and features the Tudor Rose, the heraldic emblem of England that takes its name and origins from the House of Tudor.
The tall, lean, uniformed man in charge provided the dos and don’ts of ship entry, then called the roll, checking off the visitors’ names. Stepping onto the swaying gangplank, the group headed into the ship past more tall, lean men, their bright white uniforms competing with the sun outside.
If you’ve never been onboard a large workhorse ship, the interior is a maze of twisting hallways, tightly wound fire hoses and other emergency gear, control panels, narrow, steep stairways the width of a very small foot, and heavy watertight doors.
Following and being followed by the white-garbed sailors to prevent anyone from getting lost or wandering away, the group was led through those hallways and doors, past all of that equipment and signs of famous streets in London attached to the steel walls – Haymarket, Piccadilly, Oxford among them – given to the different areas of the grey interior.
Passing a line of Americans wearing drab, khaki uniforms that contrasted with the brilliant white of the Brits’, the visitors moved on with their hosts, up several flights of stairs to a theater-style room. Posters promoting the ship and its purpose were placed behind and to the sides of a podium to create a background for the press conference.
After several minutes of setting up video cameras and microphones, finding seats where photos could be easily taken, and general settling down, Commodore Steve Moorhouse of the United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group welcomed everyone aboard and gave an update on the Covid-19 cases on the ship that were top-of-mind to the visitors.
With assurances that the outbreak was fully under control, he then provided an overview of where the ship had been, where it was going and why it was in Guam. More speeches followed with Governor Guerrero and Lt. Governor Tenorio and Guam’s Commanding Officer, Capt. Michael Luckett, welcoming the ship and its crew to Guam.
After asking questions of the presenters, the group was led through more passages and stairs to the flight deck above.
Lined with neatly positioned V/STOL – “vertical and/or short take-off and landing” airplanes that can take off and land vertically or on short runways – there are no catapults or arrestor wires to catch the planes as they land.
Among the most modern in operation today, the HMS QE is the lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers with room for 250 Royal Marines that are supported with attack helicopters and large troop transports such as Chinooks.
There is also no elevator on the flight deck to raise and lower the planes into the deck below for repair and maintenance. An insert has been carved into the side of the deck and a dock-side crane is used to lift the aircraft over the side and onto the lower deck, eliminating interference with the main deck.
After approximately 15 minutes on the flight deck spent learning about the operations from their hosts, the visitors were led back to terra firma via the hallways, nearly vertical stairs (it’s easier to go down backward, they were advised), past more crew members, and finally to the gangplank exit where the commander and his officers stood to see everyone off.
A sailor holding a silver pipe also stood beside the door but, to my regret, did not pipe the visitors off.
As the group descended, several dozen sailors in work uniforms were seen standing on the dock in two lines facing each other, passing bags of garbage hand-to-hand from the ship to large garbage containers. Five weeks at sea produces a lot of garbage.