Hollywood producer Mark Bauch recounts his childhood-fantasy-come-true: an exhilarating day aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
I was born in the ’80s, a decade full of movie badasses to look up to: Ferris Bueller, Martin Riggs, Peter Venkman and Fletch, just to name a few. But for me, the undisputed heavyweight of them all was Top Gun himself: Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.
Sure, Roger Moore’s 007 bedded more girls, and would never be caught dead playing shirtless beach volleyball with the boys, but he also didn’t fly an F-14 Tomcat at Mach 2, pull inverted 4g negative dives over Russian MiGs, or have the cojones to land fighter jets on seemingly miniature boats in pitch darkness. For Maverick, it was all in a day’s work.
Which is why I almost sobbed with joy when I received an invitation from the U.S. Navy to do a tour of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), located a few hundred miles off the coast of Mexico, during full exercises. Growing up in London, I never—even in my most far-fetched dreams—thought I’d get the opportunity to hang out on the deck of an active duty aircraft carrier. Now, though, I work in Hollywood as a producer, and occasionally there are unexpected perks.
I’d join other industry types—“Enlisted” stars Geoff Stults and Parker Young, as well as a select group of CAA talent agents—on what the Navy calls “Distinguished Visitor Embarkations.”
The Navy relishes the opportunity to show off the awe-inspiring power and breathtaking efficiency of these $6 billion, nuclear-powered behemoths. Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are the most intimidating ships on the high seas—almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall, and wider than a football field. Ninety aircraft, including six squadrons of F-18s, can fit on one of these carriers alone. Oh, and the U.S. has 10 of them. Excessive? Who am I to say? My home country hasn’t had a navy worth talking about since the Battle of Trafalgar.
But beyond the Navy’s desire for Hollywood to produce more Top Gun-esque movies and TV shows, which serve as the ultimate calling card, it quickly became clear that they had another message to deliver: Most of these highly skilled, motivated sailors aren’t going to stay on this ship forever and as such, the Navy is keen to show that their expertise can be readily applied to the civilian workforce.
It’s nice to imagine that these guys spend all day buzzing the tower and singing karaoke to girls at the bar, but believe it or not, it isn’t all fun and games. These sailors are sent to war zones and tasked with protecting America and its interests—and the majority of them haven’t even reached legal drinking age. Despite my childhood dreams of becoming a fighter pilot, I realized that I couldn’t manage one day in their shoes.
As far as work environments go, these carriers are recognized by Lloyd’s of London as among the most hazardous on earth, so the almost 5,000 sailors and naval aviators working up to 20-hour days need to keep their wits about them at all times. One false move could cost dozens of lives, if not more.
It takes a certain type of person to not just shoulder that kind of responsibility, but also to withstand the strict and monotonous deployments of either seven or 12 months. As you can imagine, sleeping quarters are hardly luxurious, unless you consider sardine cans the epitome of comfort. And good luck trying to catch forty winks with 50,000-pound jets slamming to a halt mere feet above your head all night. Working onboard a carrier is as much a feat of mental fortitude as it is physical endurance.
Which brings me to my point: If the U.S. government can trust these young Americans with multimillion-dollar hardware, in a war zone, handling and directing countless things that go boom, surely they can be trusted to bring that same professionalism and work ethic to a movie or TV set. So while we may not be able to offer them the thrill of standing mere feet away from F-18 Super Hornets launching and landing, or being shot from 0–165 mph in less than two seconds off the edge of an aircraft carrier, the very least we can do is take them seriously when they come looking for a job. I know I will.
Written and Photographed by Mark Bauch.