Navy serves up turkey with a side of sorties
ABOARD THE USS EISENHOWER — While millions of Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with family and home-cooked meals, the 5,200 sailors aboard the USS Eisenhower are busy launching fighter jets to strike Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.
The crew is spending their second Thanksgiving on duty, and will be carving their own roasted turkeys when their duties aboard the thousand-foot long American aircraft carrier allow. Some will spend part of the day flying over the Middle East, dropping precision munitions on Islamic State militants.
“It’s not going to stop us f rom having a great Thanksgiving meal,” Capt. Paul C. Spedero Jr. said. “We’re going to watch football when we can. It’ll probably be a little bit time-delayed but we’re going to do all the things that we can do and what we can expect to do with our families back home,” he said.
He estimates the carri- er’s fighters have dropped nearly 1,100 bombs in the fight against Islamic State since June, when the Eisenhower began operating in the Persian Gulf. Last Thanksgiving it was deployed off the coast of Virginia.
Rear Admiral James Malloy, commander of the Eisenhower strike group, says his forces are increasingly using precision munitions as Islamic State militants hide and fight among civilians, including in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
“They’re actually using civilians in military capacity to shield them, knowing that that would stay the hand of the coalition,” he said. “The power of the precision, responsive airstrikes that we provide is even more critical than before.”
Lt. Jennifer Sandifer, a 27-year old fighter pilot from Austin, Texas, plans to eat her turkey midmorning before donning a flight suit labeled with her call sign, Fur.
She’ll then climb up a metal ladder and make her way across the bustling flight deck. Mechanics and a ground crew there main- tain jets for 17 pilots, including her single-seat F18.
She’ll taxi to the launch point where a catapult will connect to the jet. A sailor known as a shooter will signal when the catapult is ready and then she’ll give a final salute before roaring off the deck going 0 to 145 mph in 2.5 seconds.
On Thanksgiving, as on any day, she’ll fly six to nine hours and strike targets identified by ground forces, perhaps in Mosul or the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State.
Back on the Eisenhower, culinary specialist and Petty Officer 1st Class Antonio Brown is organizing a feast consisting of 4,950 pounds of turkey, 1,050 pounds of ham, 1,200 pounds of beef, 648 pounds of shrimp, 7,000 portions of mashed potatoes, 400 pies, and 200 cheesecakes.
Brown is also serving his take on standard Navy recipes, like adding marshmallows to the sweet potatoes. Brown said Thanksgiving is the most important day of the year for the carrier’s cooks and kitchen staff.
“It’s like the Super Bowl,” Brown said.
Sailors prepare turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner aboard the carrier USS Eisenhower.