To keep crew’s spirits up, Norfolk-based Navy captain turns to ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

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It could be a scene from a corny film: “Hey,” a young Navy officer told a brainstorming session about morale, “Let’s take the whole crew to the movies.”

That’s what really happened when USS Iwo Jima’s commanding officer, Capt. Judd Krier, sat down with his leadership team to think about keeping his shipmates’ spirits up as they watch shipyard workers at General Dynamics NASSCO Norfolk yard prepare to tear holes in the hull, to start lifting heavy pumps and tanks out for repair and replacement.

So he took the whole crew, except for a small duty section to handle security and the fire-fighting watch — some 700 in all — to catch “Top Gun: Maverick,” which opened Friday.

And he sprang for popcorn and soda, too.

Having your ship out of the water, propped up on blocks in a dry dock, isn’t the life most sailors joined the Navy to live.

But Krier said he expects watching Tom Cruise pilot an F/A-18 SuperHornet will hint at adventures and challenges to come when Iwo Jima leaves the yard a bit more than a year from now. (Spoiler: Cruise really didn’t pilot the planes. While he wanted the cast to experience what it was like to fly in a fighter, a condition the Navy insisted on when it leased the planes for more than $11,000 a hour was that Cruise did not touch the controls.)

“It’s a chance for everyone to connect with a great Navy movie,” he said.

Separately, Newport News Shipbuilding hosted 800 shipbuilders to sneak-preview screenings on Wednesday and Thursday. The shipyard handed out another 1,200 vouchers for screenings to employees.

“We play a huge role in building carriers, so it’s great to see something we were part of on the big screen,” said engineering technician Will Wiley, who attended the Thursday screening.

Newport News shipbuilders built two of the stars of the movie: USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and USS Abraham Lincoln.

“We’re excited that the movie shines a light on their hard work, and showcases how these incredibly capable platforms function on behalf of the country,” said Danyelle Saunders, who leads the NNS Engagement Diversity and Inclusion Office.

The movie returns Cruise’s character — Maverick — to the Navy’s Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor school, now at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada. When the first Top Gun movie came out in the 1980s, the school was at Miramar Naval Air Station.

He’s still insubordinate, and still a daredevil, too — kicking off the new film by defying orders so he can test the limits of an F/A-18 with a Mach-10 early morning spin.

Krier saw the original film as a 10-year-old in small-town Pennsylvania.

“I thought it was pretty cool, just like everyone in America, and probably like every other kid, I thought I wanted to fly,” he said.

And even though he and the rest of Iwo Jima’s crew aren’t fliers, “I know when I announced it, the whole crew was excited.”

Dave Ress, 757-247-4535,