Posted on October 13, 2006
It was a long flight out to the ship, three hours strapped down in a COD, facing backwards. It was worth it all though, because I’m back at sea again and loving it, frankly. It isn’t just the gentle lift and roll of a warship in the open ocean, nor is it the familiar sights and smells: the fighters in tension on the cat, screaming to be released; the all-pervading flight deck smell of grease and JP; the ringing of the ship’s bells as the watch is relieved; the always-different faces that somehow seem as familiar as those of your own family – people you’ve never met but instantly know; the way that the sky and sea frolic in the distance, the way both of them seem to tease you, always running on before, always just out of reach no matter how fast you chase after them. Those things are good and precious and there is deep, abiding magic in them, but there is more.
There is the mission: This ship is not just at sea for a training exercise off the SoCal. This ship is at war. And although it almost sounds wicked to say, and although I feel in a way guilty for being out here as an interloper, even perhaps a distraction from the important work they’re doing, it’s also true that I’ve missed the steadfast and dedicated purposefulness that goes along with being on the line, providing combat power to support friendly forces ashore and teaching a harsh lesson on the value of airpower to those who would raise their arms against our friends on the ground.
They’ve been at sea for a long time, this crew – five and a half months already – and they’re still a long way from home. Everyone is just a little tired, and you can see the strain of it in their eyes. There is an easy familiarity between them, they have heard each other’s stories, and they can finish each other’s jokes. Each knows what the man or woman on his left or right is capable of, and they know their own limitations. And finally there is this: A quiet pride, the kind of pride that comes with knowing that your work is making a difference. Not everyone gets that chance, and some that do fail to grasp the opportunity. But these folks understand it, even if they don’t talk about it, even if they can’t talk about it, perhaps because of a becoming reluctance to blow their own horn. Or perhaps because they know that is so precious and so ephemeral that to even talk of it might break the spell, might ruin everything.
They’ve crossed the Atlantic and the Med, patrolled the Arabian Gulf, operated in the North Arabian Sea, flung strike fighters and support aircraft to the efforts in Iraq, to the efforts in Afghanistan. They’ve crossed the Indian Ocean, reached into the Pacific, touched in at Pusan, Hong Kong and Singapore and returned again to bring the fight to the foe. Not much longer now and they can start working their way home – their relief is already en route, just across the horizon.
It is good to see them.