Fighting Illini's Zook drops in on U.S.S. Stennis

USS JOHN C. STENNIS, at sea — It’s not every day a famous person checks aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier; it’s not every day the crew of USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) gets to meet a famous person while underway.

Tuesday was a special day for both parties when University of Illinois head football coach, Ron Zook and his staff embarked aboard Stennis for a two-day tour to learn about the ship and meet Stennis’ sailors and Marines.

“I always wanted this opportunity,” Zook said. “The general public does not understand enough that without these men and women, who make their jobs look so easy, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have.”

Zook’s staff asked Navy Recruiting District St. Louis to coordinate the visit.

“Flying is a passion of mine and being able to see flight operations was a once in a lifetime experience,” Zook said. “I couldn’t thank the Navy enough for this opportunity. I just wish there was more I could do to get the message out about the sacrifices sailors make every day.”

In addition to day and night flight operations, Zook and his staff witnessed general quarters and learned how the ship’s bridge operates. While there, they also met and spoke with Stennis’ Commanding Officer, Capt. Brad Johanson.

“What I really want to take away from this experience is how this can help my football team,” Zook said. “Let’s talk about teamwork; everyone out here knows what they’re doing and takes a lot of pride in what they’re doing. Everybody is working to accomplish the same goal. I’d love for my team to see this.”

Zook met with crew members on the mess decks having breakfast on the last day of his visit.

“I think it’s cool having a head football coach of a renowned college team on board the ship, because he’s someone the crew can easily relate to,” said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Michael Prime, a Tallahassee, Fla. native and Florida State University fan, who remembers Zook when he coached at the University of Florida. “I also think it’s great for morale, and it shows Coach Zook cares about the troops.”

The Navy seeks to strengthen ties with outside organizations committed to boosting members’ morale, such as Morale, Welfare and Recreation and the United Services Organization. They are also committed to ensuring programs exist to take care of sailors and Marines’ morale and well-being, as part of America’s maritime strategy.

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