Aircraft Carrier Crews Told to Rest Up

Published March 19, 2003

| Associated Press

War preparations are in full swing aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt — most of the crew is asleep.

Combat pilots and most of crew aboard the aircraft carrier were ordered to snooze through the day Wednesday so they could shift to night operations.

The other carrier in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS Harry S. Truman, will stay on day duty — thus providing round-the-clock combat capability.

Some sailors on the Roosevelt still had day assignments. Lt. Matt Arnold, 33, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, oversaw a crew that was equipping bombs with precision electronics.

"It's time for us to do what we were trained to do," he said.

The Roosevelt and the other five other carriers on Iraq duty will act as the platform for combat aircraft if Saddam refuses an ultimatum from President George W. Bush to leave Iraq with his sons.

The Navy won't reveal its plans. Typically, however, those planes strike right after cruisers and destroyers deliver the first blow. The pilots would fly deep into Iraq to attack targets in concert with ground assaults from troops amassed on Iraq's doorstep.

Iraq's air defenses are thought no match for the U.S. fighters and fighter-bombers, but the pilots refuse to allow themselves to be cocky, saying danger is as near as a lucky hit.

And pilots on the Roosevelt and the USS Harry S. Truman face an additional hardship — distance.

With Turkey still withholding overflight rights, they would have to fly farther to strike than pilots on the three carriers deployed in the Gulf. Nobody is saying how far, or what the route may be, but the pilots say they are prepared.

"It's going to be a little bit longer, but it's nothing we're not used to," said Cmdr. Sean Clark, 39, a pilot from Forth Worth, Texas.

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