Videos: Today's Military

    Nuclear Officers on the USS Nimitz(05:23)

    Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz man the rails as Nimitz and embarked Carrier Air Wing 11 depart San Diego for a scheduled deployment to the western Pacific Ocean.

    Aircraft carriers are essentially airports at sea, and they provide military aircraft with enough space to take off and land in international waters. Some of these aircraft carriers are bigger than others. For example, the USS Nimitz is a supercarrier and has room for 6,000 people, not to mention over 60 aircraft. It takes a lot of Sailors to keep aircraft carriers as large as the USS Nimitz running smoothly.

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Lt. Bristol Hartledge: I think swimming -- it's very cerebral for me, because I can think about work, I can think about home, I can think about my family, I can think about just going faster. I grew up on a lake, so I've always been around the water. I love the water. That's one of the things I really enjoyed doing on the ship, was going up to topside when we're underway and just look out at the water. It's beautiful.

Lt. J.G. Chris Zundel: I'm a Nuclear Engineering Officer for the United States Navy. You can't really grasp what this job is going to be like until you're doing it. There's definitely a personality type that goes through this program.

Male Speaker 1: I started nuclear power training in December of 1999. I'm talking to you today just about 10 years later, in command of this ship.

Lt. Bristol Hartledge: Growing up, you know, math was it for me. I had never considered joining the Military or the Military as an option until I'd heard about the NUPOC program.

Male Speaker 2: That's because (overlapping dialogue; inaudible).

Lt. J.G. Chris Zundel: I definitely like something that makes me think, something that I can figure out. I enjoy learning how a reactor actually works. Because that's not really common knowledge.

Male Speaker 2: It gives a leadership opportunity in a very highly technical environment for any officer who chooses to go this path.

Lt. Bristol Hartledge: I enjoy being able to put my personal touch on it and lead the team the way I think is the most efficient.

Lt. J.G. Chris Zundel: Behind us what we have is the USS Nimitz, [CVN?] 68. What we're doing right now is we're basically testing everything that we've fixed in the last five months. It's like this every day. The wheels are in motion 100% of the time, all the time.

Lt. Bristol Hartledge: Everything that sustains the life on the ship, reactor department creates the steam that drives the -- that gives the power for that.

Male Speaker 2: Nimitz is powered by two nuclear reactors. In order for us to steam hundreds of millions of miles safely on nuclear power, we have to have a very strict training regimen for all the operators operate the nuclear power plant.

Lt. Bristol Hartledge: Working with the reactor, you know, we start it up, we shut it down, we do drills and all that. It's your watch team. So you have the human factor there where I'm leading a watch team of the enlisted guys who are also down there, and so I have -- I can influence how we all interact with each other. [cuts to outdoor conversation] Like, concerning the fire drill we had on Wednesday, Petty Officer (inaudible) said, "What did you see that the drill team did well?"

Male Speaker 3: Pretty much everything.

Lt. Bristol Hartledge: Pretty much they did everything well. OK. How was the [dressing out and EBDs?]? 
[cuts back to one-on-one] In the reactor department, you have really intelligent people who are -- they impress me every day.

Male Speaker 2: Our Navy officers all have -- have satisfied the values of honor, courage, and commitment, and that's just by being in a Navy uniform. And then what we hope to do is to satisfy their intellectual curiosity that they gained from college -- looking into the Navy and saying, "Hey, I want to do that. I want to do something different. I want to do something bigger than myself."

Lt. J.G. Chris Zundel: This is the first thing I've ever done that I can honestly say that I don't think everybody could do it. At first you feel lost. You know, at first you're like, "Oh, there's so much knowledge that we're getting." But as you start to understand the theory and then understand how to use the theory, you definitely feel more competent and you definitely feel like, "I can pretty much do anything."

[sound effects]

Male Speaker 2: The Carrier Strike Group represents the most potent forward-operating force that we have in the United States Navy today. The presence of a United States Navy Aircraft Carrier 1 is reported in the media. When people see it, it influences everybody in the region. It shows -- demonstrates United States' commitment to our allies and to security and stability in each region. Nuclear power allows us to get forward very, very rapidly and without the requirement to be refueled that is critical to our operations.

Lt. Bristol Hartledge: I think it is a huge responsibility to be a Nuclear Officer on an aircraft carrier, and we're reminded of it every day. Without these reactors creating the [seeds?], we're a buoy. We're a buoy in the middle of the ocean.

Lt. J.G. Chris Zundel: If you're walking around downtown San Diego and you look up at one of the tallest buildings, it's maybe about 500 feet; imagine about twice that size, and that's what I live on and that's what I work on every single day. The hours are definitely long when you're out to sea, but you find time throughout the day to have a little bit of fun. I would say I have a very active personal life. I'm very involved with music, I'm very involved with training for triathlons. The Navy accommodates that, and I have time to do that. There's no feeling like coming in after a [deployment?]

Lt. Bristol Hartledge: Mmm. I'm almost welling up right now talking about it. (laughter)

Lt. J.G. Chris Zundel: You're swelled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. 

Lt. Bristol Hartledge: Pulling back into your home port is like nothing else I've ever felt. 

Lt. J.G. Chris Zundel: Hi, my name is Lt. j.g. Chris Zundel. I'm a Lieutenant, Junior Grade, in the United States Navy. 

Lt. Bristol Hartledge: Hi, my name is Bristol Hartledge. I'm a Lieutenant in the United States Navy. I always like to see people's reactions when I tell them what I do. It's never short of surprise.