News from ship to shore

Yesterday I was walking down one of the ship's passageways when I came upon a fellow officer who works in the ship's Intelligence Center. He was standing in a line with several other sailors, waiting for his chance to use the VTC. The VTC (Video Tele-Conferencing) system, installed in the Admiral's Briefing Room, otherwise known as the "War Room," is meant for secure teleconferencing between multiple ship and shore sites. On this deployment, in addition to its official uses, VTC is being used to give sailors a chance to see and speak to their loved ones back home.

As I passed by my friend standing in line I noticed that he had a big smile across his face. He told me that in a few minutes, when it was his turn at the VTC, he would get to meet his son for the first time. His son was born in October, a month after we left Norfolk on our deployment. Nearly three months had passed since Owen was born, and while his wife had sent pictures and video, this was the first chance that he would have to actually meet his son. Several thousand miles, on a TV screen, he would get a long overdue chance to see his son and talk to his wife. And still, he will have to wait another two months for a face to face meeting.

VTC and other modern technology have made the separation from family and home a bit easier on sailors while they are deployed. We have email and phones available for use onboard. We also have a reading program for moms and dads. They can go to the ships onboard TV studio and record videotape of themselves reading a favorite book to a child. Then the tape can be mailed home. A few weeks later, their children can watch dad or mom read a story to them on TV.

But even with all these means of communications, sailors must make tough sacrifices to be out here for so long. They miss holidays and vacations. And they miss family birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings. Deployment is generally easier on those who are single. For those who are married, it is more difficult. And for those who have children, it is even more of a sacrifice. Many of the sailors onboard have young children who will take their first steps or say their first words while they are gone.

And perhaps even worse, sailors will miss family emergencies and crisis. Each month the ship receives hundreds of AMCROSS messages, sent by local Red Cross Chapters, which bring news of tragic events such as deaths, accidents, and illness. And while the navy makes every effort to get sailors home when tragedy strikes, often the logistics of being thousands of miles away make it impossible to get a sailor home in time to say goodbye to a dying relative or even attend the funeral of a loved one.

The news media often report on the dangers that soldiers and sailors must face by deploying overseas. And while those dangers are very real, both in time of peace and time of war, it is the sacrifices of being away from home that the sailors spend most of their time thinking about.

Dual parent households are turned into single parent households and single parent households are turned over to the care of a friend or trusted family member when ships go out to sea. Most often those deployments are scheduled and orderly, but on occasion a crisis occurs and sailors are called upon to leave on a moments notice. It is the life that accompanies anyone in the military. This is especially true for the Navy and Marine Corps who are often labeled the nation's "911 force" and who are always deployed around the world, ready to respond when we are called upon.

Editor's note: LT. Adam M. Dworkin, USNR, is stationed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt which left Norfolk, Va. on Sept. 19 following the tragedies of Sept. 11. He is a 1993 graduate of Amity High School and a 1997 graduate of Vanderbilt University.