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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 12, 2002

Sailors lift spirits, boost economy

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

The 7,120 officers and crew of the USS Carl Vinson battle group set foot on U.S. soil this week for the first time in nearly six months and discovered that the free world had changed.

After six months at sea, USS Carl Vinson shipmates E-3 Josh Napoli, left, AT-2 Brian McAfee and E-4 Janelle Switzer were ready to get back in the water. They snorkeled Thursday near the Hale Koa Hotel.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Even in civilian clothes, sailors such as Ken Blair have been stopped on the streets of Waikiki by people who want to say "thanks for doing your job," he said.

"You definitely see a whole lot more patriotism these days in America," said Blair, a petty officer first class who works in electronics aboard the Carl Vinson. "It's really wonderful."

The Carl Vinson had been steaming into the North Arabian Sea on Sept. 11 and suddenly became the first aircraft carrier to launch U.S. strikes on Taliban and al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan.

News from back home, via CNN, played regularly on television sets situated throughout the aircraft carrier. But even as the operations tempo revved into high gear, the crews remained in a kind of pre-Sept. 11 time warp.

"It's sensory overload for a lot of us," said Lt. Justin Long, tactical action officer aboard the USS Ingraham, a Tomahawk missile frigate based in Everett, Wash. "You could say that we saw the beginning of the war, fought the war and saw the end of the war and then we came home. It's been a real eye-opener to see how America has changed."

Tuesday's arrival of the Carl Vinson and five of its escort ships — the cruisers USS Antietam and USS Princeton, frigate USS Ingraham and fast-attack submarine USS Key West — also represents dollars for Hawai'i's sputtering economy.

Neither Navy nor state tourism officials calculate how much money the 7,000 sailors will leave behind when they set sail Monday for their various West Coast ports. But many of the crew members have found themselves spending $150 to $250 and more per day — not including hotel rooms — for beer, tattoos, souvenirs and good old American food.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Rich Moore spent part of his time on O'ahu searching for the perfect tattoo. He found it at South Pacific Tattoo.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Rich Moore, a 43-year-old petty officer first class from the Carl Vinson, spent $190 for his first tattoo, a clipper ship with the phrase "Ship of Fools" running beneath. Since he joined the Navy 20 years ago, Moore was always looking for the right tattoo. Wednesday night, when he walked into South Pacific Tattoo, the clipper ship and motto spoke to him.

"I've actually looked all over the world," he said. "This kind of fits. Ship of fools. When you're out there for months at a time, you kind of feel like that sometimes."

Tattoo artist Scott Sterling came in on his days off to handle the extra business from the Carl Vinson battle group.

"There's a noticeable difference," Sterling said, as six sailors sat in the waiting area. "Business is far superior when ships come in. Things get crazy."

Nathan Guimont, a petty officer second class, is one of the few who have been watching their money. He sleeps aboard the Carl Vinson and in his first four days in Hawai'i still hadn't spent $100.

His wife of six years, Sidney, saved money back home in Snohomish, Wash., while Guimont was at sea. "I'm not going to do her wrong by spending money while I'm in Hawai'i," he said.

But he then did splurge on an herbed chicken platter at the Hard Rock Cafe.

"I bought real food," he said. "Real tasteful food where you don't have to question whether what you're eating is really chicken."

The food aboard the Carl Vinson is plentiful but there's only so much rice, beans, chicken and roast beef that can be eaten on a long deployment, said aviation ordnance airman Jeremy Lapham. Besides, "When they're serving that many people, they don't have much time to put the flavor in."

Lapham feels he successfully fulfilled his assignment of readying bombs and missiles for target-hungry F-14 Tomcats and FA/18 Hornets aboard the Carl Vinson during the war against the Taliban.

Once he arrived in Waikiki, Lapham accomplished his next task with equal success.

"Jack-In-The-Box was the main mission," said Lapham, 20, of Longview, Wash.

He sat on a concrete wall near the Duke Kahanamoku statue and detailed the merits of the bacon, bacon cheeseburger on sourdough bread that he devoured, along with a greasy box of curly fries. His shipmate Gerret Grim was oblivious and instead listed the merits of the Taco Bell grande meal he'd been dreaming about aboard the Carl Vinson.

"You get your choice of 10 tacos, hard or soft, or burritos," Grim said. "You can get nachos or a Mexican pizza. And they have these little Mexi-nuggets."

All of the food is supposed to take care of a family.

"Tonight," Lapham said, "the grande meal serves a family of one."

Navy chow has been good enough for ordnance chief Keith Sherman over the last 19 years. On Thursday, he put on his Navy whites and stood at the edge of the Waikiki Beach to sign up for another two-year hitch.

Sherman's supervisor on the Carl Vinson, Ensign Rockey Pulley, thanked Sherman, 41, on behalf of the United States and for helping Pulley run their ordnance division.

Then Sherman raised his right hand and once again swore an oath.

He promised to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic ..."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.