Local Navy families take news with sturdy resolve

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

EVERETT — It’s all part of the job.

That’s basically what Everett sailors and their families said in reaction to Thursday’s fatal terrorist attack on the USS Cole near the Persian Gulf.

The Everett-based aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is in the gulf on a six-month deployment to enforce U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

In an e-mail to The Herald, the Lincoln’s captain said he and his crew were saddened by the news of the Cole.

"While it’s always difficult to experience the loss of shipmates, the crew recognizes the importance of remaining focused on our mission," Capt. Douglas Dupouy said. "Our sailors, as always, are very positive and confident about our role in the Arabian Gulf. We’re keeping the families of the Cole sailors and the surviving crew members in our prayers."

Dupouy also recorded a voice message to reassure Lincoln sailors’ family and friends that all is well.

Dupouy’s wife, Lorna Papke-Dupouy, is president of the local officers spouses’ club. She said Thursday that Navy spouses are prepared for the possibility of incidents such as Thursday’s, which killed at least six sailors, injured 36 and left 11 missing.

"Although we are saddened by the loss the Cole has experienced, we understand that’s the nature of the job," she said. "I don’t think there’s any overall anxiety."

The Lincoln is the flagship of a battle group that includes the Bremerton-based USS Camden and six other ships and submarines from San Diego and Hawaii.

Along with the Lincoln’s 3,000 sailors from Everett, 360 Whidbey Island Naval Air Station personnel are also in the gulf.

One of the EA-6B Prowler squadrons is stationed on the Lincoln, and another is on the Norfolk, Va.-based USS George Washington, which is the flagship of the Cole’s battle group.

Despite the terrorism in the Middle East, Everett Naval Station did not upgrade security Thursday.

But base spokeswoman Jeanie Kitchens explained it is hard for boats to get too close to the Navy ships.

The ships post sailors on deck to watch and report suspicious activity to base security, which patrols the area with small boats, she said.

"There is a 50-foot arc around the piers and the ships that security keeps people out of," Kitchens said.

The Everett Naval Station is squeezed between the Port of Everett’s logging yard, with busy international shipping and cargo deliveries nearby, and the Port of Everett Marina, which is the second-largest marina on the West Coast with more than 2,000 recreational, crabbing and fishing boats.

Meanwhile, the captain of the USS Fife, an Everett-based destroyer that returned from the gulf two weeks ago, said he had recently gone to school with the Cole’s captain, just before he took over the Fife in April.

Cmdr. John Field said he did not know if his colleague was among the dead or injured, but "it’s a very sobering thought to know that some of your friends are on board."

When the Fife was in the gulf this summer, Field said, tensions were easing and progress was being made in relationships with surrounding countries.

"But it’s always in the backs of our minds that these things can happen," he said. "Only a few months ago, we were there. We were doing exactly what the Cole’s doing and had it been three months ago, you just never know."

Destroyers like the Cole of Virginia usually have to refuel every few days, Field said. He "absolutely" prefers to refuel at sea, because it’s quicker and less dangerous, he said, but when refueling oilers aren’t available, the only option is to stop at the closest port.

Everett-based ships don’t usually go to the Yemeni port where the attack happened, Field said, because it’s not on their way.

"It’s more common for East Coast ships to use that port because they have to go through the Suez Canal to get into the gulf," he said, whereas West Coast ships skirt the southern edge of India.

The world’s major waterways are basically divided up this way: Pacific Fleet ships are responsible for the Pacific and Indian oceans, and Atlantic Fleet ships are responsible for the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The fleets share the Persian Gulf.

The Everett-based ships generally spend six months out of every two years in the gulf.

Chaplain James Gay, from Naval Station Everett, said he’d received an e-mail from the Lincoln’s chaplain asking for prayers.

Gay said the 19-year-olds that are considered the backbone of the Navy appeared to take news of the incident in stride.

"They turn out every day knowing that their jobs are not only important but very dangerous," Gay said. "That’s what they’re trained for, and they’re excellent at it."

The Cole is an Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, which is the new type of warship that’s scheduled to replace Everett’s three destroyers in the next few years.

Aboard the Fife, an older Spruance-class destroyer, Field said he told his crew about the attack over the loudspeaker and tried to keep them updated throughout the day.

"We have to treat it as business as usual," he said, "and then as we continue on with our training, we’ll learn what lessons we can and make things safer for our sailors."

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