Soon enough, we'll be swept up in the rivalry of the Army-Navy Game. But today we sit together and give thanks for all who serve.
11 November 2014
Rock Island Argus &
Nov. 6, 2014"Oh, I was just an Army pay clerk," a veteran may tell you.
"I worked in the ship's galley for two years and rose to the exalted position of assistant cupcake baker," another might say.
Hollywood portrays veterans as warriors charging out of foxholes or peering through periscopes shouting “Fire torpedo one!” So when a former soldier or sailor says he didn’t shoot guns or command submarines, we may conclude he’s not a “real” vet.
Veterans may be humble about their service, but numbers don’t lie.
Consider a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. On a typical cruise this behemoth carries a crew of 5,000. That's more people than live in my hometown. And just like Aledo, Ill., it takes a lot of people to keep this community in business.
Cooks work around the clock. You would, too, if you had to serve 15,000 meals a day.
Offices full of clerks maintain the crew's pay and personnel records. An entire laundry staff washes clothing. This is a crucial service. I was on a ship in the Indian Ocean when an electrical problem shut down the laundry room for a few days. Nothing is as destructive to morale as living in a sealed metal container full of people wearing yesterday's underwear.
Our crew's physical and spiritual needs require doctors, corpsmen, chaplains and religious program specialists. And counselors, too; sometimes the recipient of a "Dear John" letter needs someone to talk to.
These people take care of the crew's needs. Now let's look at those who run the ship.
A carrier is in constant motion, so quartermasters are at the helm day and night, steering the ship under the captain's orders based on the calculations of teams of navigators. Down below, the engine room is always staffed. At sea, some jobs are never completed. At home, when you finish painting your living room, you sit down and bask in glory. Sailors don't bask, for the sea is the enemy of paint. When a working party finishes a painting project, they scrape off the paint, prime it and start over again.
These people, and many more, constitute the 3,000 crewmen needed to keep a carrier in operation. But there's another group we haven't looked at yet.
An aircraft carrier is a weapons platform, designed to carry airplanes to the far reaches of our oceans. The Carrier Air Group adds another 2,000 residents to our floating city. Here we have structural mechanics, engine repair specialists, air traffic controllers, fire fighters, weapons technicians.
And pilots. Our ship hosts perhaps 100 pilots who fly combat and support missions. Getting these few pilots where they’re needed is the entire reason the carrier exists.
So it takes 4,900 people to get 100 pilots up in the air. That's 49 mechanics, nurses, missile technicians and shopkeepers for each pilot.
Yes, pilots risk their lives with every flight, but at sea, all are at risk. An enemy's bomb doesn't distinguish between pilot and tailor, between captain and dentist. A sinking ship treats everyone equally.
As a former Navy bandsman, I know this all too well. Navy musicians, like bakers and pay clerks, go in harm's way. When fire and death rained from the skies above Pearl Harbor, among the first to die were the musicians of the USS Arizona's band, all of whom died passing ammunition at their battle stations.
These were not "just" musicians, as no veteran was "just" a translator, "just" an infantryman, photographer or deckhand. Each veteran gave fully of his or her time, talent and devotion, not for glory, but for our nation’s cause.
And each deserves our respect.
© 2014 Frank Mullen III