Integrity at the Helm

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Ok, I’m the first to admit I’ve done some pretty cool stuff over the years, but being invited to attend the christening of the USS Gerald R. Ford over the weekend ranks at the top. At the invitation of Susan Ford Bales, who served as the ships sponsor, my wife Maria and I joined other invited guests to witness history in the making. The Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is the nation’s newest aircraft carrier and the first in a new class of aircraft carriers. The aircraft carrier was named for the 38th president based on his service aboard the light carrier Monterey in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The words Integrity at the Helm grace the crest of the USS Gerald R. Ford. Four more appropriate words could not have been chosen.

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USS Gerald R. Ford

I don’t know anything about aircraft carriers (except that they carry planes) but one thing I can tell you with certainty is that the Ford is HUGE. Aircraft carriers are referred to as  “floating cities,” and for good reason. For example, the Ford will be able to hold 4,660 personnel, 75 aircraft, and produce 15,000 meals a day. It’s probably safe to say the cook is underpaid!

My association with the Ford family dates back to 1989 when I accepted Mrs. Ford’s offer to become part of the Betty Ford Center. I knew two things immediately:  1) for a kid from Xenia, Ohio this was an opportunity of a lifetime, and 2) their background check process was flawed or a guy like me would never have been hired. So much for the reputation of the Secret Service.

One of my great BFC memories was being invited by President Ford to meet with him in his office in Rancho Mirage to discuss some crazy idea I had floated at a board meeting. Just me and a former president of the United States. The former leader of the free world. My 15 minutes. My opportunity to prove all the nuns wrong. I did make something of myself. I had arrived! What I remember most about that meeting was how comfortable the president made me feel. Just two guys talking and drinking coffee. He had that effect on many people.

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Susan Ford Bales

The weekend was an occasion to reminisce with some old friends and make some new ones. It started with a private dinner on Friday night followed by the actual christening Saturday morning when Susan Ford Bales broke a bottle of American sparkling wine across the ship’s bow (shattered would be a more appropriate description). It looked like Susan was swinging for the fences. That bottle was going to break come hell or high water. Prior to the destruction of a perfectly good bottle of sparkling wine, those in attendance heard moving tributes paid in the deepest respect to President Ford. Former Vice President Dick Chaney, former Secretary Of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Senator Carl Levin from Michigan were among the dignitaries who spoke passionately about both the president and the USS Gerald R. Ford, as did former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the christening banquet on Saturday night. But no speaker was more passionate, authentic, and captivating than Susan Ford Bales. Her words were heart-felt and her message inspiring. I’ve heard Susan speak many times but over the weekend she really “knocked it out of the park.” She was simply at her best. Maria and I were honored to have been included in an experience of a lifetime, but more so to be able to call Susan our great friend.

The Gerald R. Ford is scheduled to be commissioned in 2016, and with a lifespan of 50 years, it will be decommissioned in 2066. Sure hope I’m invited to that party!

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