Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Life aboard super carrier USS Enterprise

“Feature – Skyler Mullis: In the Navy”

Skyler Mullis (24) returned home last week after his fourth deployment aboard the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise. Shortly after the super carrier docked at Norfolk, Virginia, Mullis was given a 10-day leave to visit his family and friends in The Woodlands.

Skyler Mullis aboard The Enterprise

    Upon his arrival at Intercontinental, he was greeted by a host of fans, among them the daughter he had never met. Skyler’s wife, Sarah, gave birth to Elizabeth Grace three months into her husband’s most recent deployment.

Elizabeth Grace is one of those wide-eyed kids, who just seems glad to be on the planet. During her first meeting with Dad, she didn’t act the least bit uptight. She went straight to his arms. No tears. The same cannot be said for Dad.

I know Skyler Mullis through Diane, his mom. Diane is a person who spends every spare hour volunteering for stuff. About makes me sick. When she mentioned that her son was coming home from a deployment, I decided to invite myself to his Welcome Home party just so I could ask him about life aboard ship. I wanted to know if it was as bad as I had imagined.

 Skyler has been in the navy for three years now. Before that he was an emergency medical technician working in Montgomery County. One day, out of the blue, he just decided that he wanted to be a medic for the Marines. That’s how he ended up joining the Navy.

Oddly enough, the Marines have no corpsmen (medics).  There are no corpsmen in the Corps. I don’t even know if Skyler knew why. For whatever reason, Marines use Navy medics.  

Skyler was okay with joining the Navy to be a medic for the Marines. Unfortunately, at signing time, he was told that there were no more openings for corpsmen. How would he like to work with computers? 

So, that’s what he ended up doing. Skyler’s position and rank is that of. Information Technician, Third Class. (IT-3) Military personnel speak in acronyms. They’ve got codes for life jackets, meals and teeth brushing. After awhile, I got tired of asking.

Skyler is quite proud of his time aboard the Enterprise. He told me that, next to the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), Enterprise is the oldest commissioned vessel in the Navy. It was first launched in ‘61, a couple of years before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When deployed, the Enterprise carries a crew of 5500, give or take. It’s like living on a floating city that has a giant airport for a roof.

I was shocked by the fact that Skyler had been allowed on the landing-deck only one time. You can step out on the deck when the ship is in port, but not during operations at sea.

“Jets are constantly taking off and landing, so there is a lot of red tape and special gear required before non-flight personnel are allowed on deck,” he said. In case you were wondering, all of the red tape and gear have acronymic names.

As an IT-3, Skyler spends most of his time in front of a computer in a room with 40 other people. However, he’s occasionally required to visit other areas of the ship to straighten out computer snafus. “I’ve been over approximately 75 percent of the Enterprise,” he said. “That requires me to have both Secret and Top Secret clearance.” The difference between “Secret and Top Secret” is unknown to civilians. I can live with that.

    When the Enterprise is at sea, Skyler works 12-hour days, seven days a week. “There is not a lot to do during my time off,” he said. “So, I don’t really mind the long hours.”

The ship has two gyms, a handful of TV lounges and one laundromat… for 5500 people. Each sailor is responsible for washing his own personal items – T-shirts, recreational shorts, underwear, socks… “Days when you have to go to the washateria are the worst,” Skyler said.

“We used to have to wash our own uniforms, but, too many of them were getting ruined in the machines. Likely more human error than mechanical problems,” he said. Apparently, lack of washing machine skills is not a deal breaker for prospective Navy enlistees.

The area where Skyler sleeps contains 88 bunks, stacked three high, with two feet clearance between each.  His “berthing” area is situated two levels below the flight deck. “There is never, not any noise aboard ship,” Mullis said. -- He used the double negative for emphasis. Not never, is as seldom as it gets.

“There is the constant noise of jet engines, and planes hitting deck and taking off. The weird thing is, I’m used to it.”

“All of my possessions fit inside a standup locker, the size of a school locker and one coffin locker,” he said. And, yes, I asked. A coffin locker is named for its capacity, not so much it’s looks.

And, what of food? Skyler is not all that fond of it. I’m not surprised. I’ve never heard of anyone joining the military because of the fine food. It would be like someone checking into the hospital for the lemon Jell-O. 

“Saturday we get pizza and wings, so we sort of look forward to that,” Skyler said. “Sunday is steak and shrimp. It’s not nearly as good as it sounds. But, let’s face it, they’re preparing steaks for over 5000 people.”

There have been some notable visitors aboard the Enterprise. “Occasionally we’ll get a call to general quarters and they’ll have a few famous people talk to us.” When pressed, Skyler could remember only the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and one tall baseball pitcher. When I suggested it might’ve been Randy Johnson, he agreed that it probably was.

Of course, the most famous people aboard ship are the fighter pilots. They carry themselves well. “Oh, they’re cocky all right,” Mullis said. “But, I doubt it’s intentional.”  Truth is, I don’t think you could be a fighter pilot without developing a swagger.

I do know that it is possible to be an IT-3 and not have a swagger. Skyler is as humble a guy as you’re going to find. People kept dragging him away for hugs and photo sessions, and he was “All shucks” about it. At no time did I discern even a hint of swagger.
Elizabeth Grace waves to the World
Pride? I could see pride in his eyes. Especially when he held his daughter. “The only downside of my Naval experience has been the separation,” he said. “That’s been real—“ An unintentional head butt from Elizabeth Grace interrupted his train of thought. Or, maybe not. Regardless, he didn’t finish his sentence. 

 Before being dragged off for the last time, Skyler said, “I think that every ‘single’ able-bodied person should join some branch of the military. It’s good experience. If I had to go back, I’d do it all over again.” 

Right about now, Skyler is in Norfolk with Sarah and Elizabeth Grace. The Enterprise will stay in port until 2015 when it will be decommissioned and eventually moved to Washington State. America’s first nuclear powered carrier will be replaced by the USS Gerald R. Ford, CVN-78.

The USS Ford will set sail without Skyler Mullis aboard. Sailors are stationed for 4 years aboard ship, and then three years on base. Near the end of 2014, Skyler will have completed his four-year stint working aboard the Enterprise. He doesn’t know where he’ll be stationed next, but it’ll be on dry land.

“I’ll get to be with my family,” he said. “No more separation… for awhile, anyway.” 

Sarah and Skyler with Elizabeth Grace. 
E.G. wasn't even afraid of me.
Not crazy about me, just not scared.

You can reach Mark at Mark@rooftopwriter.com

1 comment:

  1. Good story Moke, beautiful family. --jilly--