The little things: Not all USS Carl Vinson sailors flocked to Disneyland when the ship anchored near Yokosuka, Japan, on Saturday for a few days of liberty. Some craved solitude.
“When you live with 5,000 people every day, you just kind of want to be by yourself,” said Chief Petty Officer Melissa Martinez, 35, a Navy journalist from Milton, W.Va.
One land luxury not available on the ship is a hot bath. During a recent port call, Martinez took seven baths in three days. Another amenity she misses is eating in a sit-down restaurant. “This may sound strange, but it’s so nice to sit at a table and have a waiter or waitress serve you, instead of having to eat buffet all the time,” she said.
Crew members say it’s the little things they miss while at sea. But for Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Patrick Smith, it’s the big things: “A normal size bed, more than two yards between me and someone else, and not having to duck my head.” Smith, from San Diego, is 6 feet, 2 inches tall.
Missing mom’s home-cooking: Eating at sea doesn’t rival a sit-down meal at the Hilton, but at least there’s variety. Chief Warrant Officer Ray Peterson, a food services officer on the USS Carl Vinson, said menus don’t repeat for 21 days. Sailors may choose fresh or powdered milk. If the fresh stuff runs out or spoils, the ship stocks milk with a super-long shelf life — up to 180 days.
The Vinson prepares 15,000 meals a day to feed a hungry, 5,200-member crew. The specialty buffet bars — potato, taco, “wings and things,” and seafood — are especially popular.
The Vinson has three vegetarians, says Peterson. And, yes, they are nourished, as the ship replenishes its perishable vegetables about every 15 days.
Is there anything lacking? “The only thing I can say is, these guys miss their mother’s home-cooking,” Petersen says.
Rules and regs: Like any small city of 5,200, the USS Carl Vinson has a jail, but unlike most small cities, it’s sometimes empty. A day before the aircraft carrier pulled into Yokosuka, Japan, its lone inmate was due to be released.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Rebecca Richey, 37, a master at arms, said the most incarcerations she’s seen at any one time is about eight.
“For the most part, this is a great crew,” she said. “These kids that are here are definitely focused on why they joined.”
Another reason for the low numbers may be that brig life is just plain harsh. There’s no outdoor recreation area. During waking hours, sailors must sit at attention or stand; they can’t sleep in their rack until after taps. Reading is limited to the Bible or military rules and regulation manuals, though long-term prisoners enrolled in college courses may read their textbooks. The shower is a not-very-private box.
“The idea is to re-establish the military bearing and a sense of pride in themselves,” Richey said. Most who end up in the brig are there for leaving the ship without permission. Richey said they usually have personal issues at home, “and for whatever reason, they don’t think they can rectify them or they don’t think they can trust their chain of command, so they leave and they don’t tell anybody.”
But by the time they’re returned to the ship, “they see a better way to handle things,” Richey said. “Probably 98 percent of the people we had in the brig turn out to be productive sailors.”