Minesweeper life is good, but being home is better
July 2, 2007
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — There are only four bathrooms on a U.S. Navy minesweeper.
So, while a couple of plugged toilets might be no big deal on an aircraft carrier, on minesweepers they are cause for major alarm, explained Expeditionary Strike Group 7 Lt. j.g. Eric Daley.
There’s only one passageway to get aft on the 224-foot ships, but traffic jams are minimal because the crew is so small, Daley added.
And no one gets too attached to their iPods or computers, as they may be pitched overboard if they sail into mined waters, said USS Guardian Ens. Jorge Roldan.
Life on a “sweep” differs from other ships in the fleet, said USS Guardian and USS Patriot crews when they returned Friday to Sasebo Naval Base.
The two Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships carry roughly 80 males each and sail the Pacific clearing waterways of mines.
Because mines cue off changes in magnetic and acoustic fields, the ships have wooden hulls and metals are restricted — from what sailors can bring aboard to the pots and pans in the galley.
“The saying around here is ‘Wooden hull, Iron men,’” said Lt. Cmdr. Steven DeMoss, Guardian commander. “You’ll see it on T-shirts.”
The hull and crew camaraderie is a “throwback to the Navy of old,” DeMoss said.
And just like sailors from the past, crewmembers are responsible for many duties.
On the Guardian, for example, Roldan heads up the ship’s combat information, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and transition — and, in the last deployment, served as the operations officer.
Younger sailors also have more responsibility than they do on other ships, DeMoss said.
“I see sailors do more on a daily basis here than on any other ship,” DeMoss said. “We have E-4s and ensigns doing department head jobs.”
Fireman Apprentice Ronrico Jones said he liked this aspect of working on Guardian.
“This way, I learn everyone else’s job — in a bigger ship, I won’t have that,” Jones said. The downside of a small ship is the seasickness, he said.
“On a ship this small you feel everything,” Jones said. “I had a lot of drowsy and queasy days.”
And they spend a lot of time under way — they’ve been gone at least 135 days out of the last 180, DeMoss said. Granted, deployments aren’t long — usually only two or three months — as the ship’s small facilities aren’t equipped to handle longer stretches at sea.
The ship’s shallow draft also means they get to visit ports that other ships don’t, said Lt. Dion Wigwall of Expeditionary Strike Group 7. This last deployment saw 16 port visits, including stops in Borneo, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.
Several sailors also said they had to get used to an all-male ship, due to the space and berthing issues that restrict women from serving. But in general, the atmosphere is more casual, and the crew knows each other well — from the top of the chain of command to the bottom, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominic Mararchi, whose last command was a guided-missile cruiser.
“You end up having lunch with or going out on liberty with everyone at least once,” Mararchi said. “You see the same people every day.”
He thought a second and added, laughing, “Then again, you see the same people every day. It’s a double-edged sword.”
What you hear waiting on the pier
“The worst part about the deployment is being alone. The best part is when they get back.”— Janette Corneja, USS Patriot spouse
“Most of the sailors on these ships are unaccompanied, so they see the families on the pier and head off on their own. We’re here because we think every sailor deserves a welcome home.”— Jerry Havens, educational service specialist, Sasebo Fleet & Family Support Center
“It wasn’t so bad. The worst part is being by myself, but I just hung out with the other wives.”— Jessica Freudenvoll, USS Guardian spouse
“I’ve been married 10 years and have figured out how to wave without getting tired arms. I’ve lost track of how many deployments that is.”— Teri Shultz, USS Patriot spouse