By lex, on September 11th, 2010
Asleep in my rack onboard the USS Constellation – “America’s Flagship.” We’re about two days out of Hawaii on the way home to San Diego at the end of a six month deployment. What we used to call, in those days, a “combat deployment.” We’d stopped off in Hawaii to drop off about 500 sailors and pick up perhaps twice as many “Tigers” – sons and daughters, fathers and cousins, brothers and sisters – who would ride the ship home with us, who would experience “life in the Navy” for four days.
The ship and crew are tired, but with a growing sense of elation as we change time zones every other night. That and the excitement of soon being home leads to “channel fever,” the inability to sleep very well. So I am not much disturbed when the the phone rings a little after 0400, it’s the Tactical Action Officer down in Combat. “Ops, you’d better turn your TV on, check the news.”
You know what I saw. My first reaction was doubtless the same as yours: Shock and disbelief, which turned quickly into towering anger. I’ve already dressed, spoken to the captain, surveyed the watch in the Combat Direction Center and swung by ship’s intel when the flash message comes in: The Navy Command Center has been hit at the Pentagon. Big Navy’s off the line, but we are still in communications with our fleet commander, who is still in comms with PACOM.
I am at first resentful: We have been so long at sea, the ship is wounded, trailing one of her four main shafts and operating with rudder restrictions. And I have a retirement letter sitting in my cabin, waiting for the captain’s endorsement. But we are hardened and ready, and it makes sense for us to swing around and head back west.
It is what it is, so I create a checklist of things that we need, and things we must do before we can get back in the fight. We have already off-loaded our war ordnance to the mid-PAC ammo ship, and we must re-arm. We also need to drop off these people who are no longer family members but merely civilians, and a burden to us. There is a CASREP on one of our self-defense systems down in Combat that has just jumped to a higher priority for repair.
In the end, they let us come home – a carrier is already in the Gulf, and one is ready to move outbound. Others would follow. The letter would be ripped up.
Where were you?