Sailors from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike) (CVN 69) and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 participated in a historic reenlistment ceremony of astronomical proportions. Astronaut and Capt. Michael Lopez-Alegria, commander of the International Space Station (ISS), presided over the ceremony from space Jan. 29, via video teleconference (VTC), along with astronaut and Cmdr. Suni Williams, flight engineer.
Sixteen Sailors became the first from Ike to be reenlisted by an officer from NASA in a ceremony which crossed Earth's atmosphere to the ISS orbiting 200 miles above. The VTC included the ISS, NASA, Ike, and a Norfolk, Va., site for families to participate.
"It's pretty exciting," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Aircraft Handling) 3rd Class Dubiell De Zarraga, from Ike's Air Department, V-1 Division. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life, and my family will also."
Ike's commanding officer, Capt. Dan Cloyd, and Lopez-Alegria crossed paths through mutual friends just before Lopez-Alegria's mid-September launch for the ISS. They both became determined to find special ways to bring the ISS and Ike crew together.
"The space station and Ike have a special bond in that before he left, Michael took along two commissioning pennants from the ship," said Cloyd. "He is holding one for him and the space station, and one he will present upon his return to us."
Cloyd and Lopez-Alegria worked together to help create a unique experience for an important event in a Sailor's career.
"Everybody always wants to make their reenlistment special," said Cloyd. "This was a great idea as well as an opportunity to do something historic."
Lopez-Alegria felt it was a special honor to take part in a crucial point in a Sailor's naval career.
"We really feel close ties to the Navy and unfortunately it's difficult to maintain those ties given our jobs and certainly given our locations. This is a great opportunity for us to share this with you," said Lopez-Alegria.
One Sailor had the chance to speak to Lopez-Alegria and Williams following the reenlistment to deliver a message from the reenlisting Sailors.
"On behalf of my fellow reenlistees and myself, I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy day, and for giving us this once in a lifetime opportunity to reenlist with you while you're serving aboard the International Space Station," said Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Courtney Busdeker, from Ike's Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department's (AIMD), IM-3 Division.
Later she said, "Maybe one of us who reenlisted today will be in their position (someday)."
Before Sailors could raise their hand and solemnly swear to defend America's Constitution, people from numerous commands had to work together to ensure the stars could align and make the event possible.
"For 16 Sailors and their families to experience this event, I couldn't even begin to tell you how many people were either directly or indirectly involved in putting this together," said Chief Navy Counselor (SW/AW) John Wise, a command career counselor aboard Ike.
Cmdr. Zig Leszczynksi, space operations officer for Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (Ike CSG), helped put Ike coordinators in contact with the right people at NASA by working through a friend at NASA, Astronaut Capt. Chris Ferguson.
Ike CSG is the 2nd Fleet Executive Agent for Space, in support of the Naval Space Campaign, which aims to incorporate space capabilities in naval operations.
"It's easy for me to go through the Navy Space Cadre, a network of space professionals throughout the Navy, including NASA astronauts, to make sure this happened," said Leszczynksi. "This is one of many times we were able to use the Space Cadre Network to accomplish the mission."
Leszczynski said the reenlistment was symbolic of history the Navy has had in space.
"The Navy has a great heritage in space," he said. "This ceremony is one way that this great Navy heritage continues."
Lopez-Alegria felt the reenlistment was a nice effort to continue that relationship.
"We're sorry you can't float with us or look out the window, but you're here with us in spirit, and we wish the best to you and your ship," said Lopez-Alegria.
The event also allowed some of the Sailors a chance to see the ones they love back home in Norfolk. Family members woke up before sunrise to participate.
"It's exciting," said the wife of Yeoman 3rd Class Airrion Lemons, from the "Rampagers" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 83. "I want to tell him he's doing a good job and keep up the good work. It's hard, but there's a lot of dedication put into it. So we support him the best way we can."
The couple has been married for six months.
"It feels great because not everybody has that support," said Lemons. "Family support is number one, and it keeps you going each and every day."
Each Sailor reenlisted for his or her own reasons, but using Naval Space technology to connect Sailors to outer space and back home helped make reenlisting a special experience.
"I've passed on some opportunities before because I had work to do," said Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic (AW) Richard Klein from the "Wildcats" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 131. "But this was something I wasn't going to pass up on. It's cool for me to be a part of something that's never been done before."
The Sailors reenlisted for a total of 57 years, and, all together, those eligible received more than $42,700 dollars in reenlistment bonuses.
"I thought I'd done pretty much everything as far as reenlistments go," said Senior Chief Navy Counselor (SW/AW) Matthew Ambrose, a command career counselor aboard Ike. "It's out of the ordinary...a once in a lifetime opportunity."