Robert Johnson – Business Insider Sept 19, 2012
For several months Iran has been stalling international inspectors looking for access to its nuclear enrichment facilities. Israel has been growing more ardent in its calls for military action against Iran, and the U.S. has been doling out sanctions against Iran hoping the issue will resolve itself.
Out here under the light blue gauze of this sun-filled sky there is none of that. There are 44 F-18s on the aircraft carrier Eisenhower, along with sundry other aircraft, and regardless of what Iran or Israel do, the Ike’s deck and flight crew focus on arming these jets, launching them, and bringing them home all day long.
All 44 may not be flying today, but it certainly feels like it and out here in the Persian Gulf as 4,200 U.S. troops lean into an extended nine month deployment. Out here it is just business as usual.
Few of the crew I met have time to look up the news on the sluggish Internet connection, or concern themselves much outside of their daily duties.
The mission is the same, day in and day out, regardless of what else happens in the world and most crew are too busy to give it much thought.
That’s not true for the ship’s command; and when the admiral in charge of the Ike and the ships escorting her briefed us at the end of the day, he told us almost word for word what the ship’s captain had said. “The Iranian Navy has been nothing but courteous and polite in all of our interactions with them.”
Apparently those interactions are not altogether uncommon, which is understandable when much of the U.S. Fifth Fleet it steaming just off Iran’s coast.
The admiral had just returned from the first stages of the IMCMEX 2012, the largest marine mine countermeasures exercise in the history of the region. It’s why we’re here, to check out the exercise later in the week.
Just before lights out last night, the admiral gets on the ship’s public address system and tells the crew that he appreciates their hard work and he’s signed them up to join the mine exercise — so they’ll be working just a bit harder in the coming days.
On deck this morning at 8:00 a.m. there was no trace of the admiral’s announcement of more work. The crew had already been at work for some time washing the planes, and drying the deck. It was so hot that within 30 minutes of talking to sailors I could feel the sweat running down my legs and into my shoes.
I watched a sailor spray an F-18 with some sort of aerosol cleaning product and lean in to wipe it with a sponge.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
He stopped immediately and turned to face me with a smile.
“Cleaning my jet, sir.” He was maybe 5′ 2″ and all of 19 years old. The average age of the Ike’s crew is 22.
“You don’t mind that in this heat?” I ask wiping the worst of the sweat from my eyes.
“No, sir,” he answered with surprising sincerity. “It’s like a good thing to do so we can show our pilot we care about the jet — it reflects us. It let’s him know how much care goes into this aircraft.”
I’m headed back to Bahrain now. Waiting for a ride back from a helicopter after our plane broke down. Tomorrow is a day of briefings and information on what’s to come during the mine exercise later in the week aboard the USS Ponce.
The U.S. and its allies hope to show Iran and the world the short work they’ll make of any efforts to mine the Strait of Hormuz. From what I’ve seen there’s no doubt American sailors will do their part.