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Saturday, 16 March, 2002, 09:18 GMT
Cheney visits US aircraft carrier
Dick Cheney (in pink shirt) aboard the USS Stennis
Cheney seemed ill-at-ease among the ranks
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tom carver
By Tom Carver in Jordan and Egypt

This is the fourth in a series of despatches from our correspondent, who accompanies US Vice President Dick Cheney on his Middle East tour.

There's no better way to feel the power of the United States than on board an aircraft carrier.

Today we stood on the flight deck of the USS Stennis, watching F-18s roar and then tip upwards in quick succession.

For a man who has spent so much of his life around the military, he seems remarkably ill-at-ease when it comes to talking to men in uniform, at least those in the ranks

The jet thrust of their engines knocks your ribs together.

The Stennis is a huge floating outpost of the American empire, 5,000 sailors with enough firepower to lay an entire city to waste.

Powered by nuclear reactors, it can stay at sea as long as it likes.

Whether it's nerve-wracking or inspiring depends of course on your viewpoint but there's no denying it's formidable.

We got there by means of a terrifying machine called a COD - a jet-propelled plane which basically belly flops onto the deck at 160 miles an hour!

You get whacked back so violently that it feels as if your seat is going to crumble.

I suppose it's the closest I'll ever get to knowing what it's like to land a fighter on a ship.

Carrier life

Mr Cheney, of course, arrived rather more sedately by helicopter.

For a man who has spent so much of his life around the military, he seems remarkably ill-at-ease when it comes to talking to men in uniform, at least those in the ranks.

His speech in the Stennis's cavernous hanger was inaudible to most of the assembled sailors because the PA system didn't work, but the journalists reassured everyone that they weren't missing much as the speech was almost identical to the one he gave three days ago to American forces in the Sinai Desert.

Mr Cheney is not a man to deviate from message.

Behind him was an F-18 with a drawing of the Pentagon on the tailfin and the warning "We deliver justice".

Next to that was a large and dirty American flag which had been pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center and given to the ship's crew.

During lunch, I got a sense of what an enormous entity the Stennis is.

None of the sailors I talked to seemed to have anything to do with being on an aircraft carrier.

I met a very sweet female dental technician, a fuel chemist and an industrial safety expert.

Finally I encountered two pilots who were just as top gun as you might imagine: eloquent, composed and good-looking.

Follow Tom Carver's reports on the vice president's tour:

Click here for Day Three - Egypt and Oman
Click here for Day Two - Jordan and Egypt
Click here for Day One - London

See also:

13 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney prepares US troops for action
11 Mar 02 | Americas
Profile: Dick Cheney
11 Mar 02 | Americas
Cheney's 'thinking through' tour
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney warned over Iraq attack
13 Mar 02 | Middle East
On the road with Dick Cheney
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