With a long history of military service in his family, Bucs K Matt Bryant (left) has a deep appreciation for the men and women in the U.S. Navy
Shortly before the ships of Gasparilla "invaded" the Tampa Bay area last week, a vessel of another sort made its way into the Port of Tampa. This one didn't draw as large of a crowd as Gasparilla, but it did attract an appreciative group of Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and cheerleaders who wished to see what life is really like on the open seas.
Buccaneers Matt Bryant, Mark Jones, Earnest Graham, Jeb Terry, and Shelton Quarles were invited to come aboard the USS Bainbridge during its stop in Tampa. The Bainbridge is an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer and, at just over a year old, is brand new in terms of navy ships. In fact, it has yet to make its first deployment.
The Bainbridge was in Tampa as part of Navy Week, however, and the Buccaneer players eagerly accepted the invitation to tour its facilities on Tuesday. They were accompanied on the tour by Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders Mikki Diaz, DeShay Eurice, Crystal Hollobaugh, and Rachel Watson.
Based in Norfolk, VA, the ship has a crew of approximately 380 sailors. The Bainbridge is designed to defeat submarines, surface and air threats with its armaments, which include Tomahawk missiles and Mark 46 torpedoes. The visiting Buccaneers were treated to a detailed description of the weaponry on board the Bainbridge, as well as the rest of the ship's capabilities.
The tour began on the AFT VLS deck, from which torpedoes, tomahawk and harpoon missiles can be launched. The deck also boasts an extra large machine gun that can fire off an incredible 4,500 rounds per minute.
The next stop on the tour was the pilot house, or the cabin from which the ship is driven. It's all business in this part of the ship, where each movement of the massive vessel is controlled with numerous wheels, levers, buttons, and control panels. Quarles had his two sons, Shelton, Jr. and Carlos, with him on the tour and the crew treated the boys to a very rare opportunity. Shelton and Carlos were allowed to sit in the captain's seat, which is infrequently occupied by anybody other than the captain.
On the flight deck, the visiting Bucs witnessed the reenlistment of a Navy sailor who has already served his country for over a decade. The players and cheerleaders posed for pictures and exchanged gifts in celebration of this special occasion. Afterwards, the players and cheerleaders greeted other sailors and swapped stories with crewmembers while signing autographs.
Quarles, who has toured Navy ships before, remains thrilled and honored by each opportunity to interact with U.S. military personnel.
"What we do for a living doesn't even compare what they do for us," said Quarles. "They do a great job protecting us and giving us the opportunity to go out and play football. Without them we wouldn't be able to do what we do, so it starts with them. I have nothing but the utmost respect for every single one of the men and women aboard this ship as well as all of the others in our military across the world."
The tour concluded with one last stop at the Combat Information Center. Like something out of the movies, this area included large screens with radar capabilities and controls that can launch any of the weapons on board.
"This is the first time I've been able to be on a battleship like this, so I'm just in awe" Bryant said. "My dad is retired U.S. Army and I have uncles that have been in pretty much all of the wars, so there's a history in my family. I can't say enough about these sailors and the great job they do"
After its visit to the Port of Tampa, the USS Bainbridge headed back to Norfolk to await orders on its next mission.