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CBS 2 Exclusive: A Tour Of The U.S.S. Oak Hill During Fleet Week

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)Fleet Week festivities are in full swing, with three U.S. Navy ships and two U.S. Coast Guard cutters docked along the Hudson River.

CBS 2’s Alex Denis got an exclusive tour of one of the elite Navy vessels – the U.S.S. Oak Hill.

The Oak Hill’s distinguished service earned five battle stars during World War II and an additional six in Vietnam. And the monstrous ship that can hold up to 1,000 men and women any given day.

Lt. Chris Mikell guided the U.S.S. Oak Hill to Pier 92 for Fleet Week. Awarded as Ship Handler of the Year for 2013, there was no better person to give CBS 2 unprecedented access to the vessel.

The first stop was the mess hall, where all the sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen meet to eat. The cooking crew is working hard to serve the crew.

“This is where the sausage is made, so to speak.” Mikell said as he opened the kitchen door. “Three meals a day, seven days a week, about 650 people onboard.”

It is not an easy task, but the team always delivers. The crew starts cooking hours before mealtime, and it even won a Navy-wide competition called Best of the Mess for their hard work.

“Whatever I make, I always put my foot in it. Sometimes it comes out better than others, but, I’m eating great and good all year,” said Eric Moore. He pointed out that “put my foot in it” is “a little southern drawl – we hook it up; make it taste good.”

Outside the cafeteria, you will find long halls lined with equipment.

“Everyone onboard – everyone in the Navy – is a trained firefighter, because we have to be able to, if anything goes down, we have to be able to salvage the ship,” Mikell said. We actually have these fire hoses all along the ship. We bring in salt water from the ocean pressurize it and push it throughout the ship.”

The next stop was the main deck, where CBS 2 got an up close look at some of the Navy’s powerful weapons. The Mark 38 shoots 25mm bullets, the RAM Rolling Mainframe is packed with 21 missiles, and the CIWS – or close-in weapon system – fires 3,500 rounds per minute.

And Mikell also gave CBS 2 an unprecedented tour of the heart of the ship – the pilot house – which is not open to the public. It is Mikell’s job direct the 12-story, 609-foot-long ship in open waters and to dock.

When piloting the ship, the captain stays in the area of the centerline gyro compass, Mikell said. From there, he decides how fast the vessel should travel and how much rudder to use.

But he does not actually steer the ship. He depends on someone else to turn the wheel.

“You actually drive the ship physically from the helm,” Mikell said. “It would be equivalent to me sitting in the back seat of the car – you’re driving with a blind fold on, and I’m telling you turn the wheel this much to the left, this much to the right; press the brake, hit the gas here.”

It sounds nerve-wracking, but Mikell said he never worries. When he gives instruction, the well-qualified drivers at the helm always follow his instruction.

For example, if Mikell says to go left, “I can look up here and I can actually see that the rudder went left 15 degrees, which is a standard rudder is 15 degrees. If they go right, I snatch them up.”

Several of the powerful weapons onboard are also controlled from the pilot house.

“They fire remotely from this position, or locally from the actual mount,” he said. “(There) are screens that show the crosshairs, and these guys sit here with their helmet on, and do it like a video game.”

But there is one piece of equipment in the pilot house that fuels the entire ship. It’s an old fashioned Bunn coffee maker like you’d find in your corner diner.

“Government-issued coffee it’s what runs in the veins of surface warfare officers,” Mikell said.

While the public is not permitted in the pilot house, you can tour the main deck before the vessel sets sail on Tuesday.

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