Editor's Note: This is part three of a five-part series. Tomorrow will feature two stories: one on the men and women in the U.S. Navy, and another featuring a reporter’s notebook.
The Navy has a dozen carriers, the newest of which is the USS Harry S. Truman. Fox News recently caught up with the ship some 100 miles off the coast of Virginia, where the men and women aboard were training for a possible deployment to fight the war on terror.
There’s more to life on an aircraft carrier than launching and landing aircraft, of course.
In fact, life on the USS Harry S. Truman, the newest of the U.S. Navy's 12 aircraft carriers, is a lot like living in a small city at sea.
The population aboard — more than 5,000 — is the size of a small town. The ship itself is about 1,100 feet long, and easy to get lost in. And if the numbers on the signs plastered around the ship pinpointing your location don’t help, there’s always the mall-style map to help guide the way.
Despite its size, the ship can still feel cramped. So when there’s down time, those on board need to find their escape.
“You have about a six-foot space that is yours. And a lot of the time, you just dive into your bed and spend time there,” said Faith Heatherly, a nuclear reactor operator aboard the ship.
The smaller berthing area sleeps about 45 crewmen. The biggest areas sleep more than 200. But you can’t spend all your time in your bunk — you have to get out and take care of personal business. Those aboard can find anything on board that one would expect to find in your own hometown.
As for food, the Truman serves about 18,000 meals a day. The ship stocks about 50 days worth of food, and if it’s out to sea longer, a supply ship will restock it. Each month, cooks go though $1 million worth of grub. And with 5,000 people on board, there’s a lot of waste, some of which gets recycled.
Those on board can also do a little shopping. There’s a store they jokingly refer to as Walgreens, and there’s a convenience store they call 7-Eleven. There are a couple of gyms, and even a library.
And if someone wants to send a postcard, no problem: There’s a post office on board, — with its own zip code.
When deployed with the rest of the battlegroup, the Truman gets 6,000 pounds of mail per week. E-mail is another option. But telephone and Internet communication sometimes gets shut off when the ship goes into combat.
Life on the carrier during training isn’t that different from when it’s on a mission. Crew members train constantly in order to prepare for combat. And they work around the clock.
But some make sure they get up early on Sundays for church. And while there are these and other comforts of home, no one ever forgets they’re on an aircraft carrier.
“Sometimes it seems like an endless cycle, and in this case, there’s something we’re after,” said Lt. Cmdr. R.D. Jones, a deck handler. “There’s a purpose.”
That purpose? The same as the ship’s motto: “Give ‘em hell.”