Kitty Hawk making dull beeline for port
May 4, 2003
ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK — Seaman Eric Scott had a beer 56 days ago.
It was his first — and last — since Jan. 21, when the Kitty Hawk pulled anchor and headed to sea.
Twice during the deployment, which dispatched the Kitty Hawk crew to the Persian Gulf and is scheduled to end Tuesday, the crew held steel beach picnics, a rare day off from operations — and the only time a seafaring sailor is allowed a brew or two.
On Saturday, as they steamed for home, crewmembers marked their 100th day at sea. And in that time, even as it passed some of the Pacific’s most enticing locales, the ship did not make a port call.
“I think you’re going to have a lot of pent-up energy being released that first night we get back,” said Scott, a 22-year-old who will return from his first sea cruise a war veteran. “It could get ugly out there.”
Navy officials hope not.
On normal deployments, the ship hits any number of famous way stations — Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong. Sailors come home with handmade silk suits, pirated DVDs and tales of drunken escapades in far-off lands.
Not this time.
Instead, Navy officials say, the necessities of war — and a decision to speed home — kept the crew aboard for the entire cruise. While the Kitty Hawk has been away, the USS Carl Vinson patrolled its turf.
“You have to look at the bigger picture,” said Lt. Brook Dewalt, the Kitty Hawk’s public affairs officer. “How long has the [USS Abraham] Lincoln been out? How long has the Vinson been out patrolling and monitoring?
“The need to get back is real. The sooner we get in, the sooner we can get back out and get back to doing what we do best.”
That doesn’t sit well with most sailors.
“I think that you needed to give people a chance to really get it out of their system before getting home and getting back to Japan,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Adrian Perez. “I know we haven’t been out as long as some ships, but it’d still be a nice reward.”
Instead of port calls, the sailors’ last weeks on board the ship have been full of drills: mass-casualty drills in the hangar bay; “quick-draw” drills for close-in defense teams; general-quarters drills for the whole crew.
In the last 24 hours before getting home, the crew will be seized by what’s known as Channel Fever — the frustration of being “in the channel” of home port but being stuck on the ship as it slowly lumbers toward pierside.
Kitty Hawk officials hope to offer a few distractions, including an all-night karaoke party in the hangar bay.
The ship also has a full-time, on-board Morale, Welfare and Recreation director responsible for planning outings and events once the sailors hit shore. For the ride home, MWR sent out several extra officials to advertise what they have planned for sailors in Yokosuka.
There are trips to a half-dozen concerts, beach barbeques, a salsa party. There are free trips to Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios and the Fujikyu Highlands theme park.
It’s all an effort to keep sailors from hitting the pier and immediately hitting the bars.
But for some Kitty Hawk sailors, a return to Yokosuka won’t necessarily mean a return to freedom.
Strict liberty rules will be enforced for all sailors who have a rank of E-3 or below. They will have to earn a liberty card, entitling them to leave the ship and head off base. Kitty Hawk officials are expected to address the entire crew sometime before the ship arrives, spelling out the exact policy.