After spending 50 days away from home on RimPac in the spring of 2000 we were given 49 days to say good-bye to our friends, families and country to head out to our Western Pacific cruise of 180 days. Of course we worked those seven weeks too! We’ll spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Persian Gulf toe-to-toe with Sadam Husain. We’ll be underway for New Years and Valentine’s Day too before returning home in the middle of February.
Scheduled port visits to Hong Kong China, Singapore and Pattaya Beach Thailand were all canceled due to various reasons. The ship was able to get three days of liberty in exciting Jebel Ali United Arab Emerites. With the bombing of the USS Cole some four hundred miles south our visit to Bahrain and a second to Jevel Ali were also canceled. The crew has had less than 60 hours of time off in close to three months as I write this and a day off is still weeks or months away. What union of workers in the country would put up with such conditions?
Due to schedule changes mail was miss routed and took five to six weeks to come and go. Try having to pay your bills two months in advance! Then a series of technical difficulties plagued the satellite telephone unlink downing 42 out of our 48 telephone lines. Required spare parts were not carried on board and even after several failures of the same part spare parts could not be purchased as spares. The effect on crew moral between the three factors: no liberty, irregular mail service and phone connections can not be fully described here. Typically these three factors help minimize the loss of all the other things left behind... friends and family, pets, good food and normal sleep.
The heat in the Persian Gulf during the middle of summer is enough to overcome the air conditioning in some of the spaces aboard ship. The compartment that I sleep in with over 80 other men is one of those that is suffering. Nightly the temperature drops down to 80 to 84 degrees. I spend the night sweating and tossing and turning all night.
This is not my first WestPac, I have made five other six month long deployments over my years of Naval service but this one is by far the worse. I believe that the under lying reason for all of the above issues is a lack of proper funding for the services. The ships are deployed more often by a factor while their budgets have been cut in half. Improper funding has led to untrained service members who are trying to keep old equipment in shape despite the longer hours of operations and no spare parts.
Yet another issue managed to interrupt my sleep. The compartment above where I sleep in the ship’s main scullery - the place where they clean the crews dishes. The constant noise of dropped plates, dishes and glass isn’t the issue. A leak developed in the pipe that connects the hot water from the first rinse station into the ship’s plumping. The leak developed several years ago. Rather than spending the time and money to fix it correctly there was a bucket kept in the bed a top of mine. Occasionally, when the ship reaches maximum capacity someone is forced to sleep up there water and all. The leak typically only poured out a couple of cups of dirty water a day until one day when the dam broke and several gallons flooded out the bed above mine and then poured down into mine. I found out about the flooding at 10:30 when I climbed into my wet bed. An hour later I was good to go though my six month old mattress had to sit out a few days to dry out. I ended up using one that was several years old but dry in the mean time.
After five months at sea with just one (almost) liberty port visit of four days the USS Abraham Lincoln left the Persian Gulf behind for the USS Harry S. Truman and headed toward Freemantle Australia. The week we left the Gulf the threat condition was lowered which will allow H.S.T. to have a more normal liberty.