A Navy pilot: how 'just doing our job' has changed
I first wrote this article in August 1980 for the purpose of informing the American public of the sacrifices being made by our sailors in Task Group 70.9 stationed in the Indian Ocean. I did not submit the article because I was not completely sure that there was a story. There have been so many articles about low pay, low retention, low readiness that I wondered who would want to read about the "peacetime" Navy in the Arabian sea? Now I think that there is a story here to be told.
I am a pilot in Attack Squadron Sixty-Five on board the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). I fly the A-6 Intruder, an all-weather medium-range bomber. With our sister light attack A-7 squadrons we comprise the primary offensive capability of this ship. There are six other squadrons aboard flying fighter, antisubmarine, and early-warning aircraft to support this offensive capability. There are a total of about 5,000 officers and men in the squadrons and manning the ship. Except for a five-day port visit to Singapore in mid-July we have been on Gonzo Station (off the coast of Oman) since we relieved the Nimitz in early May.
There was a time when being in the peacetime Navy meant working hard at sea, then pulling into port for liberty. At sea, periods were usually not more than 20 days in duration. Even during the Vietnam war carriers did not do more than 30 or 40 days on the line prior to pulling into port for R&R. Of course, during Vietnam the crews on the carriers felt they had a purpose. They launched aircraft loaded with bombs and saw them return empty.
With the emergency deployment of the Nimitz from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean in January 1980 we have entered a new era of "peacetime" operations. The Nimitz remained on station continously from late January to early May 1980. She returned home to Norfolk, Va., to a hero's welcome on Memorial Day, 1980.She was met by a President who praised the crew for all they had done (launching of the Iran rescue mission and the 144 continuous days at sea). There was much talk of increased pay that day. Subsequently, a bill was introduced in the Congress which would pay a bonus of $65 a month for men on ships engaged in at-sea periods of over 80 days in the Indian Ocean. (These numbers may not be exact.)
On the other side of the world we on the Ike who had already been at sea for 45 days read the news releases with keen interest. There was talk by many crew members in favor of remaining at sea beyond 144 days -- just to beat the record set by Nimitz. We felt we were better and wanted to show it and receive $65 a month for doing it. With all the press the Nimitz received it seemed that the President, the Congress, and the American people were finally awakening to the high cost to sailors (long family separations, low pay, crowded living places, long working hours) for serving their country at sea.
Well, we did not break the Nimitz's record, and the Congress shot down our bonus. The press releases and newspapers we received said that the Congress on advice from the Pentagon did not want to set a precedent and pay us for just doing our job.
By early July when we headed for our first liberty port in 92 days at sea we were ready for a break in routine. Returning to station in late July we looked forward to our next planned port visit to Perth, Australia, in October -- 81 days away. Of course this was not not to be. Just before we left station in late September, Iran and Iraq renewed a war which has its beginnings in antiquity. Our presence was needed on station to ensure a continuous flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz.
As I write on this 184 of our deployment with 87 days of continuous at-sea time, maintaining our fighters and bombers in a 24- hour-a-day alert -- I can honestly report that morale is very high. We serve on the finest aircraft carrier in the world with the best food, finest living spaces, and the greatest tactical offensive capability of any warship in the world.
The one thing we ask of our government and the public is that they realize that this is no longer the standard peacetime Navy. We remain at sea with no defined visible objectives or achievements. With three months of continuous operations behind us and two more ahead we continue to do our best.
The thing that gnaws at us is to be written off as just doing our job. How many of those congressmen have spent 250 days at sea in an 1,100-foot steel enclosure with 5,000 other men? We officers and men of the Ike are ready to do anything our government asks of us. We have been launching and recovering jets for six months, day and night during the high winds and seas of the summer monsoons while our Soviet tattletale ships were taking white water over their bows. We have been here at the point where the buck stops and we will be here for two more months (until relieved by another carrier). Don't tell us that we are just doing our job and expect to see many of us in the Navy three years from now.
"I joined the Navy to see the world and what did I see? I saw the sea."