Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas on a carrier

We've all spent Christmases away from home. Most of the time "away" means sleeping on an air mattress in a relative's family room and sharing a bathroom with a few too many people.

For my husband, this year is completely different. As everyone already knows, Jason left three weeks ago for his deployment on the USS Carl Vinson.

The Chattanooga Pulse ran this article last week that gives a surface-level look at deploying during the holiday season:
(PACIFIC OCEAN, DECEMBER 12, 2010) Christmas trees adorn most living and communal spaces on the USS Carl Vinson today. They’re brightly decorated reminders that no one on board will be with loved ones this holiday season. But that doesn’t seem to bother anyone on the aircraft carrier. They all know the drill. Duty calls and they respond.

Most already celebrated the holidays early. The ship left port a week after Thanksgiving. The crew exchanged gifts weeks ago. Now, they have photos of their celebrations and some of their presents as they steam out into the Pacific Ocean.

The first three weeks of their deployment are spent close to home. The carrier group is about 100 miles off the California coast, near San Diego, running through military drills, preparing for their next seven months at sea. The mission of the Carl Vinson is to maintain shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean/Western Pacific and to provide a strong American military presence in the area. But it also is prepared to respond to the needs of any allied nation that needs American help. The carrier George Washington is heading back to port in Japan for the holidays, leaving the Korean peninsula for now. The Vinson and her crew can be deployed anywhere, including Korea, in a matter of days.

The crew consists of between 5,500 and 6,000 sailors and marines, each with a job to do. From flying the FA/18 Super Hornet on combat missions, to incinerating the tons of garbage produced by the crew every day, each job is important to national defense. And as formidable a tool of war the Vinson is, it is equally adept at another, much different mission: humanitarian aid.

The USS Carl Vinson is a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered super carrier. These ships are built to last 50 years and are only refueled once in their lifetime, at the 25-year mark. The Vinson recently attained that age and was in for a refueling and refit in Virginia. She was returned to sea duty in January of this year, and while on her way to San Diego around the horn of South America, tragedy struck in the tiny island nation of Haiti. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the land, killed thousands, and wounded even more.

The Vinson was nearby and was diverted by President Obama to provide whatever support the crew could. Within three days, the carrier was anchored offshore and her helicopters were buzzing back and forth delivering medical personnel, medical and food supplies and fresh water to the island. More supplies were brought in from the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and wounded were taken there.

Sixty wounded were not in any condition to be transported to Gitmo, so they were brought directly to the Vinson. There, elevators that normally transport bombs took them down to the sick bay of the ship to be tended to by the surgeon and nurses. Once the hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived, the Vinson once again concentrated solely on logistical aid.

Coming up on the holidays, and the one-year anniversary of that mission in Haiti, the officers and crew of the Carl Vinson look ahead with a sense of pride, knowing that the job they do, whether it be in time of war, or time of peace, is essential—not only to the citizens of the United States, but to others around the world not fortunate enough to have a ship and crew of this caliber.
As someone with a loved one on the inside, trust me: they do mind not being with their families. Yes, they know their duty and they perform it with pride (and you'd better believe that I'm proud, too). But that doesn't mean that they don't long for home and familiarity. Especially when every day is the same thing over and over and over again.

Here's how Jason described his average day--well, night, since he works the second shift:
I usually wake up around 4 pm, take a shower and then go eat dinner (my breakfast) at the galley. I’m in my shop by 6:30 pm. At 7:00 pm I take the maintenance meeting in Production Control and get bitched at and/or questioned about everything going on in my shop. PC on this ship is tiny. Imagine being crammed in a small room with 50 people and having officers, chiefs, senior chiefs and master chiefs all staring at you as you tell them what work was done during the day.

After the claustrophobia inducing event, I return to my shop and disclose everything that was discussed at the meeting to everyone. Afterwards, we all go into work on whatever gear there is to be worked on. At around midnight, we go back to the galley to eat MIDRATS. After that, we return to the shop and continue to work on gear. At 5 am, breakfast is served. It is the same thing every day: bacon, sausage, fake eggs, and either overcooked pancakes or undercooked waffles. At 6:30 am, we change shifts and go to our racks. Wash, rinse and repeat for 7 months. That’s my life, currently. Somewhere in between we might sneak some video game time or movie time in. It depends on how hectic things are and how much gear there is to work on.
I am hopeful that there will be a special Christmas meal served on Saturday, and that if there is, Jason is able to enjoy some of it (good food disappears quickly and latecomers often miss out). He already got a special letter that I sent to him in advance, and he has at least four packages (including the one with the candy cane brownies) on their way from me and my family members. I don't know if his shop was decorated (and the ship's e-mail has been down for a couple of days so I can't ask), but there's a photo album that shows other areas of the ship on the official Vinson Facebook page here.

P.S. I've been posting over at List of the Day a bit more frequently lately because it's more fun there than it is here. You can see my posts here.


K13 said...

Neat post!! I loved looking at the pics on FB...ok, I admit I was checking out some hotties on the Weapons Dept. Hee!!

Angela Noelle said...

I think it's amazing how people can minimize the emotions and difficulties that service members and their families go through by citing their "duty" and that they "know the drill". Seriously? Come on! I'm so proud of what your husband does for our country and of you for what you go through supporting him. You're both amazing, and I hope that people recognize that.