WESTMINSTER — Brian Lee Mortimer thought he and his wife, Marianne, had things planned out so that he would be home when the couple's second child was born early in January.
"I wasn't supposed to go back out (to sea) till May, then the war interfered," he said.
The aircraft carrier USS America left its home port of Norfolk, Va., Dec. 28, bound for the Mediterranean, then the Persian Gulf, carrying Mortimer, a Navy photographer's mate third class, along with it.
"All I got was a telegram saying your baby's been born," said the29-year-old, who also missed the birth of his first daughter while on deployment.
When the carrier returned home 10 days ago, Mortimerfinally was reunited with his wife, Marianne, 21, and daughter Amanda, 16 months, and met Mary, not yet 4 months old.
The family came to Carroll County last week to visit Mortimer's parents, William H. and Shirley T. Mortimer, who had kept in close touch with their daughter-in-law for the duration of the war.
There was plenty of reason for the whole family to worry: The America was the command ship for the air strikes against Iraq.
"Nothing happened till we got there,"Mortimer said. "When the America got there was when the war started."
The America was home to some 75 planes and 5,500 Navy personnel,including Rear Adm. D. J. Katz, who coordinated the air strikes, Mortimer said.
His job, rather than bombing Iraq, was to process aerial photographs for the bomber crews. Officially, Mortimer was carrierintelligence center photo lab supervisor.
"We processed the film.Then, if any targets were found, we made up maps of those targets," Mortimer said. "We were very precise with the targets, and if there was any doubt about a target, then they'd let it go and just drop their bombs over the water."
Now that the danger is over, Mortimer noted lightheartedly that "it's a big no-no to land with bombs. They tend to drop off and make it hard to live on the ship."
Mortimer did fly helicopter missions in the Persian Gulf, for which he received the Navy Achievement Medal "for professional achievement in the superior performance of his duties."
"I never went up in the planes, justhelicopters to take photographs of mine threats," he explained. "Onehelicopter came in one day with a suggested mine field about two miles from the ship.
"The mine was something different they weren't familiar with, so they wanted photographs of it before blowing it up."
Especially frightening was the fact that the mine turned out to be free-floating: "The worst kind, because it goes wherever the current takes it, and you can't do anything about it," Mortimer said.
After Mortimer processed his photographs, a diving team placed a chargeon the mine.
"It blew up a nice little plume of water into the air, enough to make me wonder if we should have been hovering over it,"he recalled.
His photographs of the mine will be used in trainingmanuals, he added.
Mortimer proudly noted, "We (America) had the highest success rate of any carrier -- no casualties, not a single airplane or person was lost."
The America also was the only carrier to work in both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf during the war, he added.
Worrying about mine threats off the ship the sea and having bombers on it were only part of a difficult job. During the ship's 113 days of deployment, it was in port only six days.
At one stretch, the ship was at sea for 79 days straight. But that had its minor reward.
"There's a rule that after 45 days at sea, you get two beers," Mortimer said. "So we had one beer day, although I'd rather have pulled in some place and paid for it. At least it was classy -- Heineken."
Mortimer has to be back on the ship tomorrow. He expects the America to travel to New York for a post-war celebration, then to be deployed again --hopefully, just for routine training.
Mortimer joined the Navy in 1987 and began his photography training right after boot camp.
"Photography was about the only thing I was interested in," he said. "My dad was my main teacher, so it's hard not to like it when you grow up around it."
William Mortimer was a photographerfor The Sun for 30 years until his retirement in January.
As eager as the elder Mortimers were to see their son, they waited for him to come to them, knowing he had much time to make up for with his own family.
"We were glued to the radio and TV every day (during the war)," his father said. "But we stayed here till he came up. We knew what kind of madhouse it would be. Besides, his wife has first crack at him now."