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The World | Showdown with Iraq

Sailors Are 'Watching the News to Find Out What's Coming Up'

March 17, 2003|Carol J. Williams

ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN — The order for readiness weighs especially heavy on morale and mental welfare aboard this aircraft carrier that has been at sea for eight months.

The Lincoln was steaming toward Hawaii on New Year's Day, heading home after a six-month Persian Gulf tour, when the order came to turn around. Rear Adm. John Kelly told the crew members that he understood their disappointment but warned them to "get over it," a phrase that now appears on cartoons and caricatures pasted in work areas throughout the ship.

One of the more telling difficulties of extended duty is a father missing the birth of his child back home.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Shawn Riley had a son, Payton, born the day before the carrier got its extension orders, and he had to give his wife the bad news.

"She was still on drugs when I told her we had been turned around, so she took it OK," he said, making light of the situation.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Shawn Allgood had it even worse. His son Jaiden was born Feb. 18, a few weeks premature and underweight.

His wife told her family to wait three days before telling the 26-year-old Iowa native because he was too far away to do anything but worry.

Mother and son are fine now, but for Allgood and the rest of the crew, separation from home only adds to the stress of looming war.

Those charged with monitoring mental health on the Lincoln say there has been a notable rise in divorces back home and disciplinary infractions on board.

Also, hundreds of sailors and aviators who had broken the nicotine habit at the start of the deployment have resumed smoking since the turnaround, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Jamar Jackson.

But Jackson also notes that library use and participation in college entrance exam preparations have increased. Attendance at worship services is up 25%.

"There's a lot of PT going on," he said of the physical training on board.

Young sailors with little exposure to world diplomacy are learning the mechanics of multilateral relations through the global horse-trading and arm-twisting they see on the ship's satellite TV.

"No one watches movies anymore," said Petty Officer 1st Class Seth Rusackas, a fire controlman. "They're watching the news to find out what's coming up."

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