Please read Part I posted on May 24th, first.
We left Pearl Harbor the next morning. I was able to look over the side of the deck and view the rusting remains of the ships sunk on December 7th, 1941*. It was rather chilling since the USS Stennis had been used to respond to the attacks of 9-11. The deck was hot but wonderful to see the port, city, and island from topside. Aloha, beautiful island. Somehow, the sailors in their dress white uniforms stood at attention for more than an hour as the ship slowly moved out. Many were looking a bit green from drinking too much alcohol at the luau. An aircraft carrier never travels alone. We were accompanied by several vessels and a couple submarines.
My niece was an enlisted seaman so I stayed in her birthing that she shared with more than 20 other women. Spartan, cramped, stainless steel, and industrial florescent lighting. The metal bunks were stacked three tall, about three feet high, three feet wide and seven feet long. Closed on three sides and a curtain on the other, kinda like a coffin with a side opening. Not exactly the Ritz Hotel with a thin foam mattress. She procured clean bed linens and a couple pillows for me. I slept in the bottom bunk just in case I needed to run to the bathroom in an emergency and I’m a bit paranoid about rolling out of bed. I stored my stuff in a good-sized locker and had my own lock. Unfortunately, the sleeping quarters reeked of chemicals, grease, and jet fuel. Due to my allergies I developed a “carrier cough” that persisted for almost a month after I debarked.
Ok, I am a middle of the continent person. I have spent a few hours here and there on little boats and canoes. I once went on a brief jaunt on Lake Superior. I had never been out to sea. I nearly tipped over before I developed “sea legs.” I had to become accustomed to the side-to-side rolling and the front-to-back rocking. The ship was less stable because it had off-loaded a lot of material as it returned to the US. After two days I noticed that the walls were moving but I could not feel it. I wore an anti-nausea patch and never got sick. We ate in the aft galley and it was cafeteria food. Julie did say that the chow was improved due to guests. Companies donated special meals for the passengers so I experienced my first taste of king crab, wowza.
My niece had to work an eight-hour shift daily. The first morning at sea I sat in the aircraft hanger bay with a lot of other people for an orientation. Afterwards, I struck up a conversation with several people wearing tan uniforms. I knew that they were some type of officer so I didn’t get overly personal. They knew my niece and asked if we would like to go on an officer deck tour at 2pm. I said yes but I wasn’t sure about Julie since she would be tired after working. They put us both on the list and I met her for lunch. Julie nearly choked when I mentioned the tour. I’d been talking to some of the top officers, she slammed down extra caffeine, and we went back to the birthing for her to clean up. We strode up seven flights of stairs for the tour. Officers have much nicer quarters and windows. At one point, Julie grabbed my arm and said, “I’ve been on this ship for three years and never allowed on this deck, you are on this ship less than 24 hours and get us a pass.”
I guess the officers liked me because I was invited to the officer’s deck to watch the jets take-off, air maneuvers, and landing demonstration. I was the only enlisted personnel family member allowed access. We wore goggles and earplugs but the sound and vibrations were deafening. I think that I shook for an hour afterwards. Stunning to watch such high-powered vehicles get flung off the ship by the catapult and then land with the aide of the tail-hook and arresting device. The pilots have to be bold and accurate or a catastrophe will be the result. They only have a few milliseconds to latch onto a thin cable on a deck that is rocking and rolling. I would be terrified to land at night. For each plane in the air, there are hundreds of support personnel who keep everything running smoothly. The flight deck personnel have to be fearless as the jets roar past. Military precision is inspiring, though sad that it is used for destructive purposes. Alas, I didn’t get to ride on any aircraft. The F-18, F-14, EA-6, S-3, E-2C, and SH-60s were all impressive flying machines.
I met the knot-tying experts, Deck Department. They had a cool display of the main types of knots that they knew how to create. Handy. Total geeks but important to mariners. All departments are vital for a ship to function at peek efficiency. I greatly enjoyed the demonstration day when many of the departments explained their function. One day I walked into to the bunkroom and found a bunch of guys standing over an open access port. They were “sounding the void” and looking for leaks because the ship had struck something. They let me look down into the bowels of the ship. It was a six or seven story drop to the bottom. Scary but cool. They located a small leak and were able to plug it from inside. It would be fully repaired when we got into port.
Marines and Special Operations teams were on board but they didn’t interact with the visitors. Very imposing, I would just say hi and maybe they would grunt in return. I visited with the Chaplains, quite friendly. My niece converted from Catholic to an alternative faith while on board. I was happy that the Navy permitted non-mainstream religious groups to meet without harassment. I hope that agnostics and atheists get the same opportunity.
One time I got lost and ended up on the smoker’s balcony. The best place to socialize on board. Personnel of all levels intermingled without taboo. It was filled with people laughing and having a great time. If it weren’t so smoky, I would have stayed. Another time I ended up in male bunks, oops. Thankfully, no one was undressed and I apologized. The female bunks at least have doors with signs. Granted, the ship only included a couple female bunks and bathrooms when it was built in 1995. The Navy was forced to become more equitable after the fiasco of Tailhook.
The ship was very worn from my initial viewing just before work-ups. It was scratched and dirty after seven years in service and an arduous deployment. The vessel was hot from being in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean during the summer. The deck normally has several inches of metal texturing for traction but several spots were worn down to bare plate, which is dangerous. Everyone aboard was exhausted. They had flown three times as many flights as usual and been at sea longer than usual. Thankfully, no one died during the deployment. The post 9-11 stress was intense so there had been suicide attempts, illness, and accidents but none were fatal. With approximately 3,000 personnel on board that was remarkable.
The Saga Sails On…
* = My brother-in-law’s father was on shore during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He watched as his ship sunk and rarely spoke about it.
© 2012 Ima B. Musing