ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK -- The USS Kitty Hawk, a 40-year-old aircraft carrier hailing from Yokosuka, Japan, continues to carry the fight to the enemy during Operation Enduring Freedom. Commissioned in 1961, the Kitty Hawk is the second United States Naval war ship to be named after the coastal North Carolina location and the site of man's first successful flight. When fully-manned, it has a crew of more than 5,000 sailors and if it were stood on its end, it would be as tall as an 80-story building.
Operating somewhere in the Arabian Sea, the Kitty Hawk is a floating city that never sleeps. While modern aircraft are catapulted into the sky from the flight deck, down below, crewmembers go about their duties with a purposeful nonchalance. To keep this city operating at peak performance requires hard work and a steady supply of goods and items via a replenishment-at-sea (RAS) every five to 10 days.
Recently, the "Hawk", as referred to by its inhabitants, navigated alongside and was restocked on the move by the USS Detroit, a supply ship. The RAS began when Seaman Apprentice Andrew L. Phillips shot a line to the portside of the Detroit using an M-14 rifle. The rifle had been specially modified with an attachment on the barrel that fires a soda-can sized, hard rubber projectile from ship-to-ship.
Hanger bay and logistics crewmembers then used several heavy ropes to pull thick, metal cables across the span. The cables were used to ferry the goods and equipment pallets over to the "Hawk". Two cables supported two six-inch fuel lines that transferred diesel fuel from ship-to-ship.
"It is pumped at three thousand gpm (gallons per minute)," said Master Chief Todd V. Thom from Hustisford, Wis. The 22-year veteran serves as a safety inspector in the hanger bay and has spent more than half of his career at sea. According to Thom, the Hawk took on more than 200 pallets of goods and 800 thousand gallons of fuel from the Detroit. The pallets were carried by a motorized three cable, pulley and hoist system that kept the cargo high and dry over the water.
Once the pallets were inside the "Hawk's" cavernous hanger bay, supply personnel sped the packages to their destinations. The flight deck was also abuzz with activity as CH-46E helicopters from the USS Saturn, another supply ship, dropped off another 500 pallets. The helicopters swooped in low and fast to deposit the pallets enveloped in heavy nylon cargo netting as they dangled below. Handlers driving small forklifts moved quickly to reposition the load onto an elevator. By mid-afternoon, the airlift operation had ended and most of the supply had disappeared into the bowels of the ship.
"We've received everything from aviation parts and ordnance to hazmat (hazardous materials) and food. Mostly food," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Damien R. Furtman of Duluth, Minn. He has spent practically all of his four-year enlistment on the "Hawk" and works as an elevator operator and performs maintenance on the hanger deck.
"Supply on ship is a tough, physical job," said Seaman Alfredo R. Angeles of San Juan, Puerto Rico. "After we get all the heavy pallets to the hanger, we still have to ensure everything goes to the right department. An RAS means a long, hard day for us."
That hard work paid off, however, when the crew was served fresh crab legs for dinner.