Sailors on first deployment find that life on a carrier requires adjustments
March 12, 2003
Sailors on their first deployment say life on the aircraft carrier takes some getting used to.
Seaman Chad Reeves sums it up pretty well: “Well, I never lived on something that moved,” drawled the Texas native whom fellow sailors quickly nicknamed Cowboy.
It’s the first time overseas for many of the Norfolk, Va.-based sailors. Becoming part of a floating city in the eastern Mediterranean Sea that’s home to nearly 5,400 people has been quite an adjustment for some of them.
Early into his six-month deployment, Reeves was still learning his way around the USS Harry S Truman — a maze of corridors leading to 2,700 compartments.
“If I can just get to the hangar, I’m fine,” he laughed.
But the crew is quick to brag about the young carrier, commissioned in 1998.
“This is the most awesome ship in the world,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Roger Lyford, 39. He retires Sept. 30 on his 40th birthday.
He’s not the only older person on the young ship. While most of the first-timers at sea are recent high school graduates — the average age of flight deck personnel is 19 — Reeves is 32. The former golf pro joined the Navy for job training in electronics. As far as his role in a possible war, he said, “I feel just as safe here as I do at home.”
Home is a word that creeps into conversations often.
Seaman Nicholas Barone, 21, said chitchat revolves around family and musings about whether the routine deployment will extend past June and take them beyond the Mediterranean.
“It’s stressful being away from what you know,” the undesignated deck seaman said.
“I’m worried about staying longer,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Campbell, 20, an electronics technician in the nuclear reactor department.
Seaman Apprentice Monique Martin, 18, works 12-hour shifts chaining the birds in the hangar.
“I don’t get to talk to my family as much as I want to,” said Martin, noting that she also doesn’t have much time to follow the news.
“I don’t want to think about it too much, anyway, because of this war thing,” she said.
“This is my first ship with e-mail; I e-mail my wife every day,” said Lyford, the deck department supervisor.
Petty Officer 1st Class Ronald Bilbro also turns to e-mail daily for photos of his family. His son, James Dakota, was born Dec. 9, four days after he left Norfolk.
“It stinks,” the electrician said of the separation.
On such long deployments, he said, you lose track of what day it is and even the time of day.
“Weekends don’t exist on the boat,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Angela Lemus, who does maintenance and repairs on F/A-18 Hornets 12 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week.
Just walking through the hangar can be a bit tricky for newcomers; three to five people a week report to the medical office with head injuries after bumping into aircraft, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Karlton Bethea, a corpsman.
There are also lots of stumbles down ladder wells. Bethea chuckled when recalling a patient who fell on nonskid material. “Man, the way he explained it, ‘I tripped on a nonskid and stuck my face out to break the fall.’”
Still, some sailors who had been stuck on shore were looking forward to sea duty.
Seaman Recruit Michael Reed and Seaman Apprentice Clinton Monroe had been waiting in the air terminal at Sigonella, Sicily, for several days for a lift to the carrier. They would make it as far as getting on one of the flights — helmets on, earplugs in, ready to get to sea — only to be bumped off at the last minute.
“I just want to get out of here and get on the ship,” recalled Monroe, 20.
Monroe and Reed said they weren’t sure what to expect of life on a carrier. Reed, 19, was gung-ho and ready to settle in.
“I think someone needs to put Saddam in his place,” said the aviation structural mechanic for F-14 Tomcats of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Before leaving home, Reed, 19, tried to ease the fears of his wife, whom he married in June.
“I kept telling my family I’m not really going to war,” he said. “I told my wife I’m going to work like I would any other day, it’s just on a boat.”