Skip to comments.Dispatches and photos from the carrier Truman
Posted on 04/11/2003 7:02:16 PM PDT by COBOL2Java
Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem meets with reporters on the Truman. It's a familiar duty. He was a Pentagon spokesman during the war in Afghanistan. The greater media access in this conflict has been ''going great,'' he says. Photos by Chris Tyree / The Virginian-Pilot.
Now he's at war, in charge of two Norfolk-based carrier strike groups -- known as battle groups before the chief of naval operations recently changed their names -- in and around the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
So some thoughts seem in order from Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem on the new day in media coverage of military operations:
"I think it's going great, from my perspective. Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom, was different on a lot of levels for a lot of reasons. I talked to a number of members of the press who were frustrated that they couldn't go in. A large part of that was because Afghanistan wouldn't let you in.
"I talked to somebody who was from, maybe ABC, who had paid $25,000 to somebody to go in through Pakistan and then Afghanistan. That individual was blindfolded and stuck in the trunk of a car and then drove around for a ridiculous number of hours.
"And when he got out he was back where he started. `Oh, you didn't say you wanted to get out. You just said you wanted to go in there.' Or something stupid like that.
"There was very difficult access to get in there and, of course, a very dangerous place. . . . And Afghanistan was very much Special Forces Central.
"This time, we have a lot of supporting forces . . .
"We learned, I think from early out, we don't feel we have anything we have to hide. . . . So there's a new comfortability maybe that wasn't there before. Because previously most people had come from a Vietnam experience and had bad feelings. . . .
"And one of the things that I've said before that I worry a little bit about is that we can get so comfortable with you that we'll start to slip up and feel too comfortable and start talking about things we really shouldn't do.
"Probably healthy for us to guard against that and healthy for you to guard against too much familiarity so you remain objective. I guess that's just part of a learning process."
It was time to hand out the fuses. After each bomb is dropped, it leaves behind part of the arming device, a small metal lanyard used to make the ordnance explode upon impact.
Like a new father passing out cigars, a senior member of the flight-deck crew picked off the small pieces of wire from the undercarriage of the fighter jet and passed them around. Each of the pieces is about 5 inches long and has a small loop at the end. The middle is wrapped in pink plastic.
The young sailors beamed as they received their spoils.
There is a water goblet half full, a plate with a spoonful of salt in the middle, a red rosebud off to the side and two small flags -- one American and one black-and-white for all of the prisoners of war and missing in action.
It's an honor table, a long Navy tradition and, at a moment when American troops are still in enemy hands, a place worth spending a little time looking at again.
The table is set for one to remember those absent. It's small -- could really only seat one -- to represent the fragility of the prisoner against his captor.
The rose is red to symbolize the blood shed for freedom. And the water to show that there is still thirst for that freedom.
Salt signifies their pain, lest this Navy forget. The china: bone white, to capture the purity of their mission.
"The place we sit for them is a special place," a display card reads. "As is the place we hold for them in our hearts, our minds and our Navy."
None of that on the Truman today. The only decorations signaling the accomplishments of war appear on the side of the fighter aircraft.
Each night in the hangar bay, sailors use razor blades to cut out templates representing all of the different kinds of munitions dropped over Iraq. They include the fat satellite-directed JDAMs, the slimmer laser-guided bombs, the winged bomblet-spraying kinds, and, yes, even "dumb" bombs that still cause massive explosions without any of the targeting advances.
Members of the squadrons tape the stencils to the gray planes and spray over them with black paint. On some of the planes, they carve out the date each time of type of bomb was dropped. On the radar-jamming EA-6B Prowlers, the symbols represent each time a Harm missile was fired.
Some on the Harry S. Truman do it by weight. On a single sheet of paper near the carrier's major aviation-repair shop at the forward section of the ship hangs a running list of the amount of ordnance expended, as the Navy says.
As of Wednesday, here were the Operation Iraqi Freedom statistics:
The single F-14 Tomcat squadron on board had dropped 103 satellite-guided bombs and 180 laser-directed bombs, and fired 1,019 bullets from its 20 mm guns in strafing runs.
The F/A-18 Hornets had dropped 259 satellite-guided bombs, 34 bombs filled with scattering bomblets, 304 laser-directed bombs and 134 unguided "dumb" bombs. They had also fired 12 Harm missiles to take out radar and missile sites and shot 13,055 bullets.
The EA-6B Prowlers, radar-jamming aircraft, had launched 32 Harm missiles.
Together, the carrier's air wing had expended almost 6,000 tons of munitions. By contrast, 12,000 tons of munitions were dropped in Afghanistan, 84,200 tons in the first Persian Gulf War and almost 2.7 million tons by Allied forces in the European theater of World War II.
The Baghdad of the north? As Baghdad appeared to fall to American control Wednesday, the focus on the Truman remained on supporting coalition troops in northern Iraq.
The question came to Rear Adm. Stufflebeem in charge of the two Norfolk-based carriers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, about the key city of Tikrit.
Would it become the Baghdad of the north?
"It's the next city up the major highway from Baghdad to go to," he said. "So I think there's some likelihood that we'll start to see some major movement. . . .
"Today, I heard an assessment that the regular army and Republican Guard armies that are concentrated in the three major cities in the north have had a reduction in their capacity. I don't know how they quantify this, but they say they're approximately half the strength they were before the operation started in the north. That's a pretty significant report if it's accurate."
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