'Our hearts hurt, but we know we are participating in a just cause..."
The following is a narrative by Storm Lake native Ryan Graves, sent from on board the USS Enterprise as it plays out its role in the war on terrorism. A portion was deleted due to national security needs.
Here is a view, from a sailor at sea, as we contributed our part in the initial stages of attempting to eliminate global terrorism.
It began on our Sunday night... you could feel the ship shudder each time an aircraft was launched from the flight deck (the ships always shudders when we launch air craft. Then you hear a distant "boooom" as the catapults hit the end of their travel on the flight deck).
We knew it was coming. The tension/energy had been building for days...
These are the words that our captain said as he spoke to the entire crew of Enterprise and shared with us the fact that the process had begun:
"Aboard Enterprise, good evening shipmates. The last time America actually went to war to defend against an attack on our homeland was almost exactly 60 years ago, when a treacherous enemy conducted a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. During that attack, a different Enterprise was at sea on her way home, and was ultimately an integral part of our nation's response to the difficult and bloody task of soundly defeating that enemy."
"Ever since then, whenever America has gone to war, it has been to protect freedom and our vital interests and those of our allies...we are blessed in that we have not had to defend our homeland. However, on Sept. 11, our Enterprise was at sea on her way home during a new treacherous attack on our country. A ship named Enterprise will again be an integral part of our nation's response. And like 1941, this was is a little more personal than merely defending our vital interests. We are defending our homeland and our families."
We do not think of ourselves as heroes... the REAL heroes are the sailors who gave the last full measure of devotion aboard USS COLE. They are the 42 Sailors and Navy civilians and all the other innocent victims who perished at the Pentagon. They are the firefighters and policemen and thousands of other innocent people who were lost at the WTC. They are the innocent people who died thwarting hijackers in Pennsylvania. They are those who worked tirelessly to look for survivors. And they are every family member directly affected by this act.
We do not call what we are doing tonight "revenge", for revenge only belongs to God. What we are about tonight is the first real step towards ensuring terrorism cannot happen again in our country, though it may happen again before we are finished. Our cause is just... for, unlike those against whom we are fighting, we will take great pains to only go after the guilty, not the innocent.
You have done a tremendous job preparing for this. You are ready. I ask that you do several simple things. Say a prayer for our aircrews and our country. Concentrate very hard on what you are doing... do not let enormity or excitement of what we are doing distract you from what is a difficult and dangerous businesses that we absolutely have to get right. Make sure you rest and eat right.
"God Bless You, shipmates, and God Bless our Great Nation."
I can't begin to explain the serene atmosphere that enveloped the ship as the Captain spoke to us over the 1MX. There was no celebration, no high-fives, no cheering. All 6,000 of us became eerily quiet as we thought about our country, our loved ones, the killed and missing in NY/DC/PA, and the miles between all of us and our families.
Perhaps even a tear was even shed by more than one sailor including me, as we contemplated the loss of life at home and the loss of life that had just begun in the name of eliminating global terrorism.
The ship continued to shudder with each additional air craft catapult launch, We were sending our "birds of war" out to do the things that we have been trained to do for years or even decades. We each had our "piece of the pie" to perform in the team effort. We each knew what it was. We each made it happen as it was supposed to. "Team Enterprise was busy enforcing national policy... but the atmosphere was still very serene... we all knew what we had to do...we all have our "game faces on." The air folks keep the planes on the flight deck taking off and landing as required, the ordinance mane keep the bombs loaded, the cooks keep cooking, the helmsman keeps the ship on a steady course, and the Engineers (me) keep the ships engines going and the electricity on for the ship.
The atmosphere on the ship is very different now than from two months ago when this was just a routine overseas deployment... or even right after we watched in horror at the attacks last month. Our hearts hurt... but we know that we are participating in a just cause.
Now, we continue to attack, we are prepared for retaliation against us here o the ship, we carry our battle gear with us always, we watch CNN, we pray for our loved ones and their safety at home. We know and we act like we are at war. We wonder how long we will be called upon to carry out these operations.
Please Pray for Us; Please Pray for our World.
Ryan is on the ENTERPRISE.