Smithfield Herald

West Johnston grad serving on USS Gerald R. Ford

Petty Officer Morgan Lee, a West Johnston graduate, is serving aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, which is under construction.
Petty Officer Morgan Lee, a West Johnston graduate, is serving aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, which is under construction. U.S. NAVY

A West Johnston High School graduate is part of a handpicked crew charged with bringing the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier into service.

Petty Officer Morgan Lee is an electronics technician stationed aboard what will be known as the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first ship in its class and the successor to the Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, which have been in operation for the last half-century.

Lee and the rest of the 500-member crew are slowly bringing the ship to life, a crew that will eventually grow to more than 4,500 when the ship is at sea. When complete, the aircraft carrier, powered by two nuclear reactors, will measure more than 1,000 feet in length and weigh more than 100,000 tons. It will be capable of sailing at nearly 35 mph and carry more than 75 Navy aircraft.

As one of the sailors who will commission the ship, Lee will see all of the improvements the Navy has incorporated into the design of the ship – from a redesigned flight deck to allow for more efficient aircraft operations to equipment that requires less maintenance.

Newport News Shipbuilding officially named the ship in a christening ceremony early November. As the crew grows and works toward joining the fleet in 2016, Lee and other USS Gerald R. Ford sailors will be overseeing and approving work done on the ship, training to operate it and building a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes.

Lee said it was an exciting to be helping build a crew and a ship from scratch, something he never expected to be doing just a couple years ago.

Capt. John F. Meier is the ship’s commanding officer. “We have the opportunity to build this command with the ideals of our namesake, and we can create the command climate that we have always wanted from the very beginning,” he said. “Integrity and moral courage underpin those ideals. Petty Officer Lee demonstrates those attributes, and he displays a level of professionalism that far exceeds what I would expect of a sailor at this stage of service.”

Training for the crew has to come from some unique sources. The Navy has no schools for some of the new equipment, so the sailors meet regularly with vendor representatives to learn about the systems they will be taking out to sea.

“As a ‘first of class’ aircraft carrier, (USS) Gerald R. Ford is host to enormous advances in technology and equipment, and we are faced with a wide variety of challenges, such as training,” said Meier. “In order to meet this challenge, the crew is actively engaged with Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding as the construction progresses.

“This is a unique opportunity to see firsthand how the systems are installed, which is an advantage that future crews won’t have an opportunity to experience. They are becoming the subject matter experts who will work hand-in-hand during the testing phase and, in turn, teach the Navy how to run this new class of ships.”

As a 23-year-old with numerous duties, Lee is learning about himself as a sailor and a person. “It is a lot of hard work,” he said. “But I know this is good for me in the end.

“The Navy helped me become a lot more mature than I used to be,” Lee said. “It let me find out what kind of person I am.”