As the former Commanding Officer of the USS Constellation, I have a different view than Julia Viera concerning the selection of U.S. aircraft carrier commanders. Having spent 35 years as a naval aviator, with over 1280 carrier landings, I know U.S. aircraft carriers inside and out. A U.S. aircraft carrier including its airwing is a floating city with 5,300 people onboard. The carrier is over 1000 feet in length and we launch and recover high performance aircraft with precision. While underway, this floating city is moving at 20-30 knots with 97,000 tons of mass.
Since the aircraft carrier’s mission is to provide a world-wide base of operations for the airwing, it is imperative its Commanding Officer is extremely knowledgeable in all aspects of aircraft carrier flight operations. This is why aircraft carrier CO’s are always naval aviators. In addition to keeping the peace by being a deterrent, an aircraft carrier is the vehicle to bring the air wing’s strike force power projection to protect our national interest.
During my operational tours from 1958-1990, I made it my mission to learn everything I could about the six different carriers I served on, as well as the sailors and officers that made it all work. As a squadron, air wing commander, and Commanding Officer, I frequently visited the engineers, the aircraft maintenance teams and the hospital team to learn about their missions and thank them for their service. Before being assigned to command the USS Constellation, I spent 15 months in command of a fleet oiler, the USS Ponchatoula. In this command, we provided underway fuel replenishment to the carriers. During this process we were within 100-150 feet of the carrier usually making 15-20 knots for 3-4 hours. So, I consider myself a mariner as well as an aviator.
To answer Ms. Viera’s question, the reason a SEAL does not need to command a carrier to make Admiral is because naval aviation is not his profession.
Finally, I am a naval aviator, not a jet jockey and yes, most carrier aviators need to command a carrier to make Admiral.