Of all the sporting events I have ever covered, from the Super Bowl to Little League, there was nothing ever quite like the Carrier Classic. Watching North Carolina and Michigan State play basketball on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, only a few yards from President Obama, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The game was only a minor part of that. Merely being aboard the giant ship was amazing, this monument to U.S. power, although that was nothing compared to the hospitality shown by the Naval personnel who hosted us. Rather than being tolerant or even slightly irritated that we had swarmed over their workplace and home-away-from-home, every sailor I met, enlisted and officer alike, was thrilled to have us.
Dennis Hartgrove was a great example of that. (Raleigh) News & Observer photographer Robert Willett and I ran into the petty officer from Shelby in the lengthy security line to re-board the ship after the Secret Service's security sweep. Hartgrove, 22, took us on a tour of the "Chuckie V's" living quarters, from the barber shop where he works to the bunks where sailors sleep. Of all the time we spent on board, that was what I'll remember most.
We walked away from that game knowing we'd seen something truly unique, but more than that, we walked away with renewed respect and appreciation for the men and women who serve aboard the Carl Vinson and everywhere else in the military - a sentiment shared by the players, who after the game handed their jerseys to the Wounded Warriors sitting with the president in the most heartfelt moment of the weekend.