US 'Roosevelt' sailors prep for catastrophe
The Jerusalem Post

15 March 2003

ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN - The hangar bay doors slam down. An announcement on the ship's loudspeakers says a missile has struck the aircraft carrier's port side. Scores of sailors run to their stations to dress in fire-fighting gear.

This is the scenario Friday night during what is known as a General Quarters drill. They are routine on the ship - perhaps once a week - and they are intended to prep the sailors for catastrophe. This time the mock disasters are conventional: floods, and an array of fires - metal, gas, electric. Other times, the drills are for non-conventional attacks, which disperse chemical or biological agents.

Thirteen simulated fires are going on simultaneously throughout the ship. "It seems chaotic but it's organized," says Fire Marshall Greg Marshall. In one blaze, a team of firefighters must first determine the fire's location. It is in a male berthing with beds stacked three high. Smoke, pumped from an artificial smoke machine - the kind they use at rock concerts - alerts them. Petty Officer First Class Rob Kerns shakes two pom-poms, one red, one black, to represent the fire.

On the first attempt, the firefighters try to extinguish the blaze with CO2 cans. It is inadequate and the pom-pom waver pushes them back. They are forced to bring hoses.

In a separate electrical fire, investigators have trouble getting a fuse box open and send one person scurrying for a wrench.

Officers say the chances of the ship being attacked with a missile, as it was in the mock scenario, are unlikely. But the carrier has to be prepared, nevertheless, for any scenario. I've been on the ship a week and there have been at least two fires, albeit small ones, which were easily extinguished. But when you are floating in the middle of the sea, you cannot call in reinforcements for help.

As we are guided to the medical bay to see the eight "casualties" of the attack, our ears are popping as if in an airplane. The rooms in the carrier are completely sealed so as to prevent a fire - or water - from spreading. Casualties are being brought in on stretchers.

"What's bothering you the most," surgeon David Whitaker asks his patient, a maintenance worker with F-18 Squadron 201, reservists from Fort Worth, Texas.

The patient says he has chest pain. Whitaker listens through his stethoscope and declares a chest injury.

It could be difficult to transport the wounded to the medical bay. The carrier is 4.5 acres in size and has 24 floors. We had to lower ourselves down vertically through a hatch. The answer to the problem is the ship's weapons' elevators, which carry missiles between the ship's belly, where they are stored, and the flight deck.

On Saturday, there were no flight operations as the ship moved to a new location in the Mediterranean Sea. It was quieter on board, and some people took to the flight deck for a jog.

Around 7 a.m., scores of sailors who work in the ship's ammunition division gathered in their trademark red shirts for a group photo. People embraced and smiled with their wares - a menu of air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground missiles. One person affixed a decorative sticker to a 1,000 pound, GPS-guided bomb.

On Friday, roughly 10 ships that had been accompanying this carrier and the USS Harry Truman, made their way delicately through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea, a 12-hour journey. Armed sailors stood on deck as the Egyptian military helped secure the voyage. Some sailors on board worried the ship could be susceptible to a terrorist attack. They arrived safely. But the drills they had rehearsed were undoubtedly on their minds the whole way through.