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USS Kitty Hawk makes its approach to the oiler USNS Yukon to commence a replenishment-at-sea.

USS Kitty Hawk makes its approach to the oiler USNS Yukon to commence a replenishment-at-sea. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

USS Kitty Hawk makes its approach to the oiler USNS Yukon to commence a replenishment-at-sea.

USS Kitty Hawk makes its approach to the oiler USNS Yukon to commence a replenishment-at-sea. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

USS Kitty Hawk plows through the waters of the Pacific Ocean as it makes its approach to the oiler USNS Yukon before starting a replenishment at sea.

USS Kitty Hawk plows through the waters of the Pacific Ocean as it makes its approach to the oiler USNS Yukon before starting a replenishment at sea. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

Petty Officer 3rd Class Tony Ntri of Dale City, Va., at left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher J. Cater of Canton, Ohio, help guide fueling hoses safely toward the USS Kitty Hawk as the ship conducts replenishment at sea with the replenishment oiler USNS Yukon.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Tony Ntri of Dale City, Va., at left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher J. Cater of Canton, Ohio, help guide fueling hoses safely toward the USS Kitty Hawk as the ship conducts replenishment at sea with the replenishment oiler USNS Yukon. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

Seaman Kim Tromburgh of Boise, Idaho, stands by while the USS Kitty Hawk comes alongside the replenishment oiler USNS Yukon to conduct replenishment at sea.

Seaman Kim Tromburgh of Boise, Idaho, stands by while the USS Kitty Hawk comes alongside the replenishment oiler USNS Yukon to conduct replenishment at sea. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK, Pacific Ocean — The razz was a little bit sooner than planned, but as Capt. Tom Parker, skipper of the oldest working ship in the fleet, says, “Never pass up gas, even five minutes’ worth, unless it’s bad weather.”

It was sort of bad weather, with winds around 40 knots (46 mph) and 6- to 8-foot seas, because of a typhoon named Rananim to the south. But the USS Kitty Hawk needed to fuel and cruise away from the storm so it could continue its mission flying planes, and maybe the weather would get worse. So the razz, or replenishment at sea, was moved up a couple of days as the Kitty Hawk cruised in the western Pacific earlier this week.

As the Kitty Hawk cruised along at 15 knots (17 mph), the USNS Yukon and its tremendous, serpentine gas hoses pulled alongside. Some 500 Kitty Hawk sailors got cracking, doing all the heavy lifting, complex calculations and tense ship driving needed to refuel the carrier as it cruised less than 200 feet away from the Yukon.

Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Deshotel of the deck department and his crew got ready on the wet, windy deck to shoot projectiles over to the Yukon from rifles, to start winching up the wires and cables that would bring the three giant gas hoses over to the carrier ports, as well as a rudimentary phone line so the ships could communicate.

Refueling, though dangerous, is routine, occurring every four or five days. And despite its danger, Deshotel said, or possibly because of it, his crew enjoys it. “It’s a manly man thing,” Deshotel said. “You’re outside, and you’re doing something dangerous. And it’s better than chipping paint.”

On the deck, one of the worst things that can happen is for a wire to snap and snake around the deck. Since they’re under some 10,000 pounds of pressure, the wires can take off limbs. About five months ago during a fueling a line snapped, catching a sailor in the head, breaking his jaw and knocking out four teeth, according to Seaman Brian DuBois. When he came to, “He didn’t want to leave,” DuBois said, but the medics made him.

For the ship as a whole, the worst that could happen would be for the oiler and the carrier to collide. The goal is for the ships to remain about 170 feet apart. More than 180, the lines snap, and less than 160, “You start to see the whites of their eyes, and everybody gets scared,” Deshotel said.

A collision results, as Parker put it, in “a change of command without the band.”

Before the unexpected razz began, Senior Chief Petty Officer Elvis Buckhalter had given the crew, which included two new seamen who had just arrived the day before, a little pep talk.

“So far, so good,” said Seaman Kim Tromburg on her first day at sea and first razz. “Climbing up those rungs to the next deck as the wind blew past was kind of scary,” she said. “But it’s all pretty simple as long as everybody works together as a team.”

Up many levels, on the bridge, Parker directed numerous officers, including the navigator and conning officer, as they steered the ship by degrees to keep the refueling going smoothly, even as the USS Chancellorsville pulled up on the oiler’s other side to refresh its fuel tanks.

It was a little scary up there, too. One conning officer said his hands were shaking when he started, and conning officer Lt. Andrea Schreiber still was glowing after her 45 minutes or so of intensely focused work. “In, out, in, out — it was … sporty,” she said. “It gets your adrenaline going.”

A little before 2 p.m., Parker said, “We’ll call it a day,” and the hoses and the wires were pulled back and put away. The Kitty Hawk had taken on 425,000 gallons of diesel fuel — sometimes called “Battlecat magic motion lotion” by Parker — and 350,000 gallons of jet fuel.

The Kitty Hawk increased its speed to 20 knots to break away from the Yukon and, in keeping with tradition, a breakaway song was played — “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” by Jet.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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