Defence correspondent Tom Cotterill reports from Florida, where HMS Queen Elizabeth has been based, about a state where its love and support for the military puts Britain to shame.
FLORIDA is best known for its stunning beaches, near-tropical climates and its array of world-leading theme parks.
But this is merely a glazed surface of what the expansive US state is about. Delving deeper past the tourism veneer it’s so renowned for and there’s a genuine love and passion for the military – one that, frankly, puts Britain to shame.
Veterans and service personnel are treated with reverence across the Pond. They’re given VIP treatment at airports and have their own department stores with huge discounts on groceries and clothes.
Servicemen and women walk proudly across the palm-lined streets of Jacksonville in their uniforms. It’s a sense of support not lost on envious British personnel out in the states.
One sailor told me: ‘The Americans know how to do it. It’s hard not to be envious. You can walk into a store and it’s totally normal for someone to stop you and say “thank you for your service”. That’s something that doesn’t happen in the UK.’
The state has 21 military bases dotted around it. One of them is Naval Air Station Jacksonville – NAS Jax, as it’s known.
The establishment, which is not far short of the size of Portsea Island, is home to more than 20,000 US naval personnel.
Dotted with airfields packed with huge jets and helicopter and lengthy runways, it’s a far cry to any British naval base I’ve been on.
The expansive site has its own golf course exclusively for military personnel and veterans to use, it’s own private highway system and a hospital similar in size to Queen Alexandra in Portsmouth.
There’s an enormous hotel for families of serving sailors to stay at during visits – officers even have their own seaside houses complete with private jetties, on site gardeners and stunning coastal views.
The British and American military personnel may share a lot of similar traits. But the way their respective countries treat them is light years apart.
In tomorrow’s special feature, The News follows HMS Queen Elizabeth as she continues to sharpen her warfighting teeth with the Lockheed Martin F-35 and take the first steps towards rebuilding Britain’s carrier strike taskforce.