USS Ronald Reagan -- And Its Young Crew -- On Call In Persian
The sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan understand that what
they do helps their brothers and sisters in arms in Iraq and
Afghanistan. A visit to the Navy's newest aircraft carrier shows
that the sailors aboard believe they are the living embodiment of
President Reagan's motto of "peace through strength."
The carrier -- on its first extended deployment from its home
base in San Diego -- launches F-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, and
EA-6B Prowlers and Hawkeye aircraft in support of the coalition "up
From the waters of the Persian Gulf, pilots fly long missions
all over Iraq.
"This is our maiden deployment," said Navy Capt. Terry Kraft,
the carrier's commanding officer. "Our mission is a two-sided coin.
For Operation Iraqi Freedom, every type of aircraft in our
inventory right now is supporting the coalition in the country.
That goal, of course, is to create the conditions for the Iraqis to
create a stable government that can provide security and prosperity
for the nation."
The carrier also has a second side of that mission.
"In the Persian Gulf, we're very involved in maritime security
operations and that is to also deny the maritime environment for
the use of any terrorist organization and to guarantee the free
flow of commerce throughout the region," Kraft said.
Life aboard the Ronald Reagan is not easy. Saying the aircraft
carrier is "cruising" in the gulf makes it sound as if crewmembers
are on a relaxing ocean voyage -- but it's actually like living in
a steel mill or on a factory floor.
While the Reagan is one of the largest vessels afloat, that
doesn't mean the roughly 5,300 members of the crew and air wing
have scads of room. Sailors live in crowded "berthing areas" with
as many as 100 folks in each space. They are so close together that
rolling over in the bunk probably would wake up the guys above or
It is also a young crew -- the average age on the ship is 20
"I'm a high school graduate working on a $30 million aircraft,"
said Airman Heath Pardieu, who was working on an F-18. "A couple of
years ago I couldn't even borrow a car."
Even the pilots seem
young. One lieutenant looked as if he had to have a note from his
mother to be there. Yet he was flying a multi-million dollar
aircraft in support of soldiers and Marines in Iraq.
There are two large chow halls for sailors, a Chiefs' Mess (for
E-7 and above), and a number of wardrooms for officers. All serve
the same food, just the surroundings get progressively better.
But the purpose of the craft comes together on the flight deck
-- the ship's reason to exist. Providing support up north is
the mission, and the flight deck crew goes at it with a vengeance.
The crew exhibits crisp professionalism, but they treat the whole
experience a bit nonchalantly.
They think nothing of walking on one side of the red-and-white
"foul line" painted on the deck, while just on the other side of
the line a jet screams in at 150 miles an hour and comes to a halt
in about 300 feet.
At night, afterburners light up as aircraft catapult off the
bow. One F-18 serving as a tanker launched at night, and the whole
ship shuddered as the fully loaded aircraft launched.
"That's nothing," said a sailor watching the display. "The F-18
only weights 68,000 pounds. The F-14 weighed 75,000. You could feel
your fillings shake when they launched."
The ship left San Diego January 4. It stopped in Brisbane,
Australia, and Singapore before arriving in the Gulf in February.
On February 22, the ship launched its first combat sortie.
Kraft said the cruise has gone extremely well.
"We've been gone over three and a half months, and before we
left roughly 60 percent of the crew had never made a deployment
before," he said. "They were anxious and nervous about what the
future would hold. I'm happy to report they've done just a
(Aero-News thanks Jim Garamone, American Forces Press