What’s day to day life like living in incredibly close quarters with over 6,000 sailors and pilots on an enormous floating pile of steel, electronics, munitions, and humanity? What does the “community of a carrier” look like? These are questions we all ask ourselves at some point or another. Today, we have a few more answers.
Life aboard a carrier isn’t easy. Despite the size of many of these huge warships (the USS Nimitz has two nuclear reactors, is 1,092 feet long, 252 feet wide, and weighs 95,000 tons) life is cramped and routine. Many sailors go days without sleep and sometimes many more days without seeing the sky.
Enlisted personnel share a compartment with about 60 other people, all sleeping in single bunks, which are jammed together in stacks of three. For storage you get a small bin an upright locker to keep your clothes and any personal effects you happen to have. If you’re an officer, you might get a bit more space but don’t expect your own room. In your sleeping quarters, a small TV is set up with a satellite uplink to provide you with all the prime time garbage you’d be getting in your much bigger, much nicer living room state side.
In your free time (when you have it), you can head to one of the carriers numerous movie theatres, work out in their gyms, or pull up a good ol book of Hawthorn (or perhaps Grisham?) in the library. If you hear the call, you can also head over to one of the many chapels, churches, and temples present in the ship and pray your heart out. Want to get some sun tanning done on the carrier deck? Too bad – unless your part of a flight crew or deck crew odds are you won’t be able to get on the flat top. Considering the shear volume of activity that goes on in daily drills, take-offs, landings, and combat preparation of this (relatively small) airport, this isn’t too surprising.
When you are done relaxing and get a little hungry, you can head over to get a bite to eat at one of several messes (for officers) or galleys (for sailors). Each day, Carrier Food Services Department provides an average 18,000-20,000 meals. That’s a lot of cooking and meal planning. Here’s how it works. Unsurprisingly, the higher your rank, the better the food (apparently you can get the best food at the Chief Petty Officer’s Mess – even better than the Captain and Commander’s mess). Part of this is to do with the democratization of the food services. Officers all are required to buy into a mess and given the ability to decide how much (or how little) they want to spend on each meal. If the whole mess votes to have filet mignon each meal, that’s fine – as long as they pay for it. The sailors (as usual) get a rawer deal. They don’t have to buy into a mess. Instead their food is paid for by the government (usually to the tune of around $3 a head). You can imagine the quality of the menu that leaves the cook to prepare. Hot dogs, sloppy joes, pasta – the simple things in life. If you show up late to the galley (or after the Marines take their share) you might end up with odds and ends. You won’t ever starve, but the eating will be somewhere between trailer park and homeless shelter.
When you aren’t sleeping, chilling or eating, you’re drilling. Life aboard an aircraft carrier is a series of constant drills. When you’re awake on duty, when you’re asleep after a long double shift, when you’re in the shower – you do it, they’ll find a way to interrupt it with drill.
Often you will work a regular 7 – 5 PM shift and are then be required to “stand watch” for hours into your free time. If you’re an officer, these watch hours are taken up by various miscellaneous duties like running your squadron’s HR council (only in the US Navy…). Ultimately though, you are required to become intimately familiar with your station and all the duties in the area. Whether you are naughty or nice, you’re drilling. Apparently, you get so good at this, that you’re able to go from dead sleep to dressed and moving towards your station within the first few gongs alerting you to a potential chemical or nuclear attack (talk about a great way to wake up). Your also able to get from your station to an escape hatch blind (as you may be if the lights of the carrier get hit and your stuck in the middle of the ship). So critical is this that officers and sailors are required to do this blind folded.
Still not entirely clear on what life aboard a carrier is like? Well, try these handy simulation techniques developed by several carrier veterans to get a better idea of what life is like:
1.. Buy a dumpster, paint it gray and live in it for 6 months straight.
2.. Run all of the piping and wires inside your house on the outside of the walls.
3.. Pump 10 inches of nasty, crappy water into your basement, then pump it out, clean up, and paint the basement “deck gray.”
4.. Every couple of weeks, dress up in your best clothes and go the scummiest part of town, find the most run down, trashy bar you can, pay $10 per beer until you’re hammered, then walk home in the freezing cold.
5.. Perform a weekly disassembly and inspection of your lawnmower.
6.. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays turn your water temperature up to 200 degrees, then on Tuesday and Thursday turn it down to 10 degrees. On Saturdays, and Sundays declare to your entire family that they used too much water during the week, so all showering is secured.
7.. Raise your bed to within 6 inches of the ceiling.
8.. Have your next door neighbor come over each day at 5am, and blow a whistle so loud that Helen Keller could hear it and shout “Reveille, Reveille, all hands heave out and trice up”.
9.. Have your mother-in-law write down everything she’s going to do the following day, then have her make you stand in the back yard at 6am and read it to you.
10.. Eat the raunchiest Mexican food you can find for three days straight, then lock yourself out of the bathroom for 12 hours, and hang a sign on the door that reads “Secured-contact OA division at X-3053.”
11.. Submit a request form to your father-in-law, asking if it’s ok for you to leave your house before 3pm.
12.. Invite 200 of your not-so-closest friends to come over, then board up all the windows and doors to your house for 6 months. After the 6 months is up, take down the boards, wave at your friends and family through the front window of your home…you can’t leave until the next day you have duty.
13.. Shower with above-mentioned friends.
14.. Make your family qualify to operate all the appliances in your home (i.e. Dishwasher operator, blender technician, etc.).
15.. Walk around your car for 4 hours checking the tire pressure every 15 minutes.
16.. Sit in your car and let it run for 4 hours before going anywhere. This is to ensure your engine is properly “lighted off.”
17.. Empty all the garbage bins in your house, and sweep your driveway 3 times a day, whether they need it or not. (Now sweepers, start your brooms, clean sweep down fore and aft, empty all shitcans over the fantail)
18.. Repaint your entire house once a month.
19.. Cook all of your food blindfolded, groping for any spice and seasoning you can get your hands on.
20.. Use eighteen scoops of budget coffee grounds per pot, and allow each pot to sit 5 hours before drinking.
21.. Have your neighbor collect all your mail for a month, read your magazines, and randomly lose every 5th item.
22.. Spend $20,000 on a satellite system for your TV, but only watch CNN and the Weather Channel.
23.. Avoid watching TV with the exception of movies which are played in the middle of the night. Have the family vote on which movie to watch and then show a different one.
24.. Have your 5-year-old cousin give you a haircut with goat shears.
25.. Sew back pockets to the front of your pants.
26.. Spend 2 weeks in the red-light districts of Europe, and call it “world travel.”
27.. Attempt to spend 5 years working at McDonalds, and NOT get promoted.
28.. Ensure that any promotions you do get are from stepping on the dead bodies of your co-workers.
29.. Needle gun the aluminum siding on your house after your neighbors have gone to bed.
30.. When your children are in bed, run into their room with a megaphone,and shout at the top of your lungs that your home is under attack, and order them to man their battle stations. (“General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations”)
31.. Make your family menu a week ahead of time and do so without checking the pantry and refrigerator.
32.. Post a menu on the refrigerator door informing your family that you are having steak for dinner. Then make them wait in line for at least an hour, when they finally get to the kitchen, tell them that you are out of steak, but you have dried ham or hot dogs. Repeat daily until they don’t pay attention to the menu any more so they just ask for hot dogs.
Top photo courtesy of Kevin Burkett