03 March 2007

A day out sea.

Recently I have gotten a few emails from people asking what it is really like to live and work on board a modern US Aircraft carrier as an Enlisted man. It is interesting and not anything like what is shown by Hollywood on shows like "JAG" or in movies like "Top Gun". So here it is a typical day for myself out to sea while I was on a 6 month cruise.
To begin with the only thing that you could really claim as your own space is where you sleep, but even that it at a premium. This shot here shows some elementary kids in a berthing compartment on board the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). As one can see, all you have is the bed and if you are lucky and have a locker underneath the bed. Like what the Asian girl on the right side of the picture is looking out of. Then someplace else in this compartment, which can range in about 200-500 square feet in space, is another pair of lockers not much bigger then the ones most people have at their local gyms. That really isn't that much place to store things. So most of us only pack our uniforms, about 2-3 days worth of civilian clothes. Entertainment wise, a few people will stick a CD player and a small CD case in their locker or a portable game system. A few more people will bring their laptops with themselves. Just to keep yourself entertained. Myself, I usually brought a Game boy and a few large books to read while on cruise. Now I am 5ft 9in (or about 1.75 meters for you readers that use metric measurements) tall and I have to sleep sort of crunched up to fit myself in one of these beds or racks as we call them. There is just a pair of blue curtains to block yourself off from the rest of the world and a small reading light to use. At the foot of this little rack attached to the bulkhead someplace is a compartment for a rescue breathing device so if there is a fire you can escape from the space and either get to the flight deck or to the hangar bay. This is where I will begin my day. I am a heavy sleep so I have two alarm clocks to wake me up. One is an old fashioned windup the other is a battery powered electric one.
One I wake up, it is usually a fight to either get out without stepping on someone else or with out being stepped on. Then trying to get dressed. Most people on a carrier will work a typical 12-hour day, either 0700 in the morning or 1900 at night will be the start of their shift. If you are lucky then you will be the only one in your little cubical getting up. If not then either you are fighting with 5 other people or at the most one other person.

Some people will stagger off to what we call a head or the bathroom and do the three "S's". The three S's are shower, shave, and sh*t. The hope is that by doing this you will have given a few other people a chance to have gotten dress and out of your way. After getting dressed then it is a decision based on what the time is. Do I forgo breakfast and head to work or stand in line forever and try to put something in my stomach. The really hard part about making this decision is how close you actually are to needing to be at work. Most supervisors like everyone to show up between 45-30 minutes prior to the shift starting. If you want to grab breakfast then it is stumble either forward or aft from where you live and down (or up ) a few decks to the end of the line for the mess decks.
When you get down to the start of the Mess decks, you are served cafeteria style. That is pick up a tray and go down the line picking what you want for food. In the morning if there are fresh eggs on board then you can get eggs made to order, if not then you have a choice of omelettes or scrambled eggs. The omelette really isn't that complex when they make it up; either a cheese, ham, or a Denver style. From there you have the choice of either pancakes or waffles, sausage or bacon, grits or home fried potatoes, topped off with either white bread or a donut.

Once you have gotten all of your food then you need to look for a place to sit. Some carriers that I have been on have fixed tables in selected spots and then you have long tables with small attached stools that can be fold up out of the way to go and eat on. Eat real fast and then head off to work.
Once at work it is 12 hours of fun either working on the flight deck or down below in a shop. All spaces usually have a TV. Most of us in a squadron will have the great TV show called "Roger Ball. ". "Roger Ball" is the PLAT broadcast being played on one of the screens, this is especially important to us maintainers because we can know which catapults are operating, when our aircraft are coming in, heck a smart salty sailor can even use it to figure out the weather on the flight deck. Some of the administration spaces will have one of the movie channels running or one of the other channels from satellite TV.
Sometime in the middle of the day is lunch when one can repeat the experience from breakfast, except this time will be some sort of meat, veggies, starch product. Again shovel the food into you in 30mins. Head back to work and keep working until shift change comes around. Oh and repeat again heading to the mess deck either before shift change or after shift change.
From there it is head back to your rack and either change out to some gym clothes and head to one of the gyms to exercise. Or head off to one of the stores on the ship and do some basic restocking of your shower kit. Other people will stay up and play cards or watch cruise movies on the TV in one of the crews lounges spread through out the ship. From there then go grab a shower and head off to bed. Repeat again for 190 days.
The only variations in this schedule will either be a drill day, when the powers to be decided to have a GQ drill or man over board drill. Then there is the need to extend your day because you have to head off to medical or dental for a check up or head some admin space and fill out paperwork for something or other. Laundry return day is another fun variation when everyone will pass out the clothes in your berthing compartment or you can need to head down to self service laundry to clean your civilian clothes. Self-Service is another fun line to stand in forever. There have been times that I have gotten done with work at 1900, skipped dinner and headed back to grab my laundry bag went down with a my CD player and a book, waited in line for ever, got a washer, compete for a dryer, and then back up top after it is all said and done only to look at my watch and realize that it is 0100 in the morning.
The whole thing really turns into groundhog day until the end of cruise. It seems the only days when things are brightened up is when you get regular postal mail from family. It is amazing how you come in to work one day and find out that mail call went down that day. Then here is a letter or care package from someone that cares about you.
That it my opinions about a typical day out to sea. The good thing about being out to sea is knowing that your day is going to be similar day in and day out. It really isn't that stressful, because you don't need try and get off early that day to go grocery store or pick up the dry-cleaning. If you do it right as well and set up your bills for autopay, then that is even less stress. All you need to do is worry about whether the food on the mess decks is worth eating, if you mailed off the latest letter to your family and whether the shower is going to be Arctic Ocean cold or hot springs scalding hot.

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