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Petty Officer 3rd Class Darrell Crawford looks through a gyrocompass repeater on the starboard bridgewing of the Russian frigate Neustrashimy. The repeater is used to determine another ship's direction in relation to that of the observer's ship.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Darrell Crawford looks through a gyrocompass repeater on the starboard bridgewing of the Russian frigate Neustrashimy. The repeater is used to determine another ship's direction in relation to that of the observer's ship. (Eric Brown / U.S. Navy)
Petty Officer 3rd Class Darrell Crawford looks through a gyrocompass repeater on the starboard bridgewing of the Russian frigate Neustrashimy. The repeater is used to determine another ship's direction in relation to that of the observer's ship.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Darrell Crawford looks through a gyrocompass repeater on the starboard bridgewing of the Russian frigate Neustrashimy. The repeater is used to determine another ship's direction in relation to that of the observer's ship. (Eric Brown / U.S. Navy)
Senior Chief Petty Officer William Bridgeforth of USS San Jacinto looks at a fireplug and other firefighting equipment on the Russian frigate Neustrashimy. Bridgeforth and Petty Officer 3rd Class Darrell Crawford spent the day aboard Neustrashimy during Baltic Operations 2004.
Senior Chief Petty Officer William Bridgeforth of USS San Jacinto looks at a fireplug and other firefighting equipment on the Russian frigate Neustrashimy. Bridgeforth and Petty Officer 3rd Class Darrell Crawford spent the day aboard Neustrashimy during Baltic Operations 2004. (Eric Brown / U.S. Navy)

When Senior Chief Petty Officer William Bridgeforth joined the military 19 years ago, the Russian navy was the enemy.

Last week, it was his host.

Bridgeforth and Petty Officer 3rd Class Darrell Crawford of the cruiser USS San Jacinto recently spent the day aboard the Russian frigate Neustrashimy during exercise Baltic Operations 2004.

“It felt different to be up close and personal with, and talking to, someone that you had been trained and sworn to defend against,” Bridgeforth said in an e-mail response to questions.

The San Jacinto and the Neustrashimy were working together in the just-finished BALTOPS exercise, which included more than 5,000 military personnel aboard 38 ships from 13 countries.

Part of the exercise included what officials called “cross-pollenization” of sailors between ships.

Cmdr. Dan Bates, the exercise public affairs officer, said that they “cross-pollenized” two or three sailors between the different ships.

“It allows sailors to learn from each other and also see how others live and operate,” he wrote in an e-mail. “They compare notes on common operations like engineering and bridge watches.”

Crawford and Bridgeforth were selected by San Jacinto to visit the Neustrashimy.

“The biggest difference in the two ships was the technology used,” wrote Crawford. “For the most part it seemed that the Russians were more dependent on mechanical equipment, where we are more dependent on electronic equipment.

“Other areas, such as their flight deck and weapons systems, seemed to be about the same as ours, [but] with slight variations on procedures.”

Neustrashimy is the Russian equivalent of a U.S. Navy frigate, having similar displacement — how ships are “weighed” — at about 4,000 tons and a crew size of about 215. San Jacinto displaces about twice Neustrashimy’s weight and has a crew of about 365.

Sailors on both ships, Crawford said, share similar long working hours and spend their limited time off playing cards, watching movies or catching up on sleep.

Living and dining conditions for the Russian officers — their tour guides during their 10 hours aboard — were similar to those on San Jacinto.

“The food was very good,” said Crawford, who’s been stationed on two ships during his four years in the Navy. “Lunch consisted of an appetizer plate of beets, carrot salad and small pieces of herring, followed by cabbage soup. For the main course we had potatoes and sausage.”

“It was good [but] somewhat of an acquired taste,” said Bridgeforth. “I would say the potato and cabbage soup was great.”

“One thing I did find out was that they do not have Internet or e-mail access like most U.S. ships do now,” said Crawford, a Granite Falls, N.C., native. “It’s the small things like that, [which] we take for granted, that they have never had.”

The day after the visit by Crawford and Bridgeforth a few Russian sailors visited the U.S. ship.

“I would have to agree with a comment made by [Russian navy journalist], Capt. [Konstantin] Sobora,” said Crawford. “It’s not about the ships, it’s about meeting new people and learning about them and their culture.”

Bridgeforth agreed, saying a visit like this is helping to thaw the remains of Cold War tensions.

“I think they felt the same way because this is something (the Cold War) that we had no control over,” said Bridgeforth, who grew up in Detroit.

“But now, views and ideas have changed. I am glad that I may have had some small part in that, maybe just through a firm handshake and a smile.”

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