Monday, August 15, 2011 2:16 AM

Carrier: Gripes, goals in a small city

Chatter aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, a city of 4,500:
The food, sucks. The docs, figure we're lazy liars. The pilots, think they're gods and we're dirt. If I had a choice, I'd be doing nothing. My next priority, starting a family. New sailors are soft and expect this to be just like civilian life. Hanky-panky between men and women? Yeah, and they get busted. The paperwork and drills never end. Only thing on TV is ESPN or Fox News; I want some real stimulation.

From the top brass:
Capt. Tom Nosenzo gave a pre-flight briefing to me and 14 other Distinguished Visitor/social media types at North Island Naval Air Station, Coronado. He's served on the Lincoln and is getting ready to transition to civilian life.  How fast can you get from California to Japan? "We have to worry about the optic of what we do.... We train most on "power projection.".... The only time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire. ... After 23 years in the Navy I got my own bathroom on a ship."

Capt. John D. Alexander, Lincoln's commanding officer and a pilot: "We do the work. You pay the bill." Like many officers and sailors we met, he's from Texas -- a Texas Tech grad. The fancy office he met us in, which he says he rarely uses, includes a wall-mounted deer head, which he shot with his dad, a box of cigars, a signed letter from (who else?) Abraham Lincoln, and a flat screen TV tuned to the takeoffs/landings of F-18s, which rumbled through the room as we got our sea legs.

Capt. Timothy C. Kuehhas, Lincoln's executive officer and a pilot: A native New Yorker, which for some reason meant he and I hit it off immediately. (Full disclosure: I used a New York Yankees notepad to record my observations. He's a diehard Yankees fan with an autographed ball from Catfish Hunter; I have an autographed photo from the late Yankees pitcher.) His nickname is Keymaster, after a reference in the movie "Ghostbusters," which he and other pilots watched way too many times during deployment in the Middle East. He coughed up details on how other pilots earned their nicknames. My favorite was one who strayed way outside "the box" -- his coverage region over Iraq -- resulting in "NASA," signifying "no apparent situational awareness."

LCDR Steve Curry, chief public affairs officer: "You're going to see a lot of stuff. Don't touch any of the stuff." He and more than two dozen public affairs types onboard produce a TV show ("The Boat Show"), an online magazine, educational videos (really great rap video called "Plan B" -- about not putting yourself in a bad situation with alcohol), run a FaceBook and other social media outlets and deal with PITAs (pain in the...) like me.

Lt. Kristen Hine, reactor room: Gets her news on line or from public affairs. The longer the deployment, the less that news matters -- unless the news lengthens the deployment. Lots of paperwork. Her degree is in nutrition. She'll be transitioning to a Seattle Navy recruiting office. Her husband is also a sailor.

Lt. Stephanie Lastinger, materials management, grew up in Kenya, been married 10 years,  oversees nuts and bolts and toilet paper, and sixty plus sailors: Lots of paperwork. And even on land, you get calls -- like from police to pick up an arrested sailor

A connection to Community Medical Centers:
Jerry Dickerson, project manager, clinical information systems for Community: He's a U.S. Naval Academy grad and served on the Lincoln from November 1991 to May 1993 as the reactors electrical division officer. "Nothing more beautiful than watching the open ocean from the bridge not to mention flight ops. It's an amazing feat of American technology and ingenuity to watch an operational aircraft carrier."

Among the rank and file: 
"Chaps" -- the chaplains (singular and plural) -- do their counseling in an office right under the flight deck, meaning they have to pause until deafening noises subside. The multi-faith chapel -- there was guitar and singing practice going on while we passed through -- is adjacent to the library and "Internet cafe," except there's no coffee and limited internet access because of bandwidth issues outside of port (no FaceBook because of that and -- surprise ! -- no WikiLeaks or X-rated sites).

One "chaps" was particularly miffed because Amy Winehouse's death -- he'd never heard of the troubled singer -- commanded so much attention while 10 U.S. military killed in the Middle East the same day got scant publicity. This was no small exclamation point as he was speaking the day we arrived -- same day that dozens of Navy SEALs and other US servicemen were killed when their copter was downed in Afghanistan.

ABHAN Juan A. Troncoso (ABH Navy lingo for aviation boatswain's mate-handling) is from Texas: Part of what he does involves getting an F-18 from the hangar to the flight deck on a narrow platform, mere inches away from eternity. He's been in the Navy for more than three years. Among his joys -- the smell of the ocean air first thing in the morning, the stars on a clear night, visiting lands like Dubai, Malaysia and going on a nighttime safari. "The things I dislike are being away from my wife for months at a time. Dealing with drama on the ship. The ridiculous lines for everything. What helps me focus is my wife. Just knowing that she will be waiting for my arrival on the pier and when that day comes it is the most beautiful moment. And there is much more appreciation of life." (That's him in the photo below.)

(This is the third in a series of blogs about my 22-hour August embarkation on the Lincoln in the Pacific.)