For carrier, restocking pantry takes more than grocery cart

Vinson has own ZIP code, serves 15,000 meals a day

War On Terrorism

The World

October 13, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ABOARD THE USS CARL VINSON - After launching warplanes for five days against Afghanistan, this nuclear-powered aircraft carrier busied itself yesterday taking aboard supplies. Its needs included the following:

More than 1 million gallons of jet fuel.

Ten thousand pounds of potatoes.

One hundred forty-four thousand eggs.

Nine thousand six hundred cans of beer, to be stored in a weapons magazine and broken out only when the ship has been away from port for 45 days, which, as everyone among the Vinson's 5,500-member crew knows, is coming up soon.

The USS Sacramento supplied the fuel. Goods were hauled in from the USS Niagara Falls while the ships traveled at 18 knots.

Gigantic fuel lines dangled over the Arabian Sea. Boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables traveled across ropes and pulleys. Helicopters airlifted other goods. Three-hundred fifty pallets of ammunition came aboard; training ammunition was shipped out. Mail arrived for the first time in a week. (The carrier, with more than 3,000 compartments spread across 17 decks, has its own ZIP code.)

"I have airplanes landing on my head, but it's very safe in here," said Lt. Valerie, whose sales and service office is beneath the flight deck. "Noisy," she said. "But definitely safe."

Enlisted personnel live in quarters where the bunks rise three beds high, the lights kept low to ensure that the night shift can sleep during the day. Officers have more private quarters. Women make up 12 percent of the crew, but, officers insist, there is no difference among sailors. "I'm used to working around a lot of guys," Valerie said. "I'm used to not getting my nails done every day."

The seven galleys serve 15,000 meals a day produced by 120 cooks. A senior cook working in the steamy conditions of the enlisted men's galley said a teacher had told him, "We may not be the leaders of the fleet, but without us the fleet don't eat."

They cook in bulk and serve at nearly all hours, mashed potatoes emerging from vats the size of kettle drums, hamburgers cooking on grills sized to handle several dozen at a time. Chicken night requires 1,200 pounds of chicken; beef night, 1,500 pounds of meat. And when the galleys break out the beer, it's served in aircraft engine containers cut in two loaded with ice. "We say every meal is a feast," said the chief warrant officer who runs the galleys. The crew is poised for what is known as a six-pack cruise: at least 135 days at sea.

To work off the food, there are gyms perched in the hangar bay - one for weights, another for runners on treadmills, thus the name "gerbil gyms." To wash, there are 400,000 gallons of seawater converted to fresh water daily. To keep the required Navy haircut, an eight-chair barber shop handles 25,000 haircuts annually. A sign reads "No tipping."

"You've seen one head, you've seen them all. It's like being a sculptor," said the supervisor.

A lieutenant in stock control works his computer to order shirts for the deck crew and spare engine parts: "It's not a war as the pilots would think of it. But it's a war to get the materials and to keep operating. It's intense, being in the middle of nowhere to keep the supply chains going."

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