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Correspondent Friday, 29 November, 2002, 13:38 GMT
Warship: Ready for action
The USS Abraham Lincoln
The flight deck says it all

As the threat of a war with Iraq looms, the Correspondent team go aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and discover what life is like for the pilots patrolling southern Iraqi skies.

Open in new window : USS Abraham Lincoln
See the action around the flight deck as the carrier prepares for war.

The Lincoln is buzzing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

On board, there are 80 fighter, bomber, surveillance and attack aircraft armed with a terrifying array of both conventional and precision-guided weapons.

Enlarge image
Enlarge image

Full size graphic showing key areas of the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier

These would be used in the first phase of any confrontation with Iraq.

But the Lincoln is not just a gigantic and faceless war machine.

This city of steel's men and women are in a constant state of readiness all day and all night.

The film reveals the crew's personal thoughts on life on board and their personal feelings of life they miss at home.

Lt. Dave
"My daddy was a crop duster for years, and I always enjoyed flying and speed"
Lt Dave "Knuckles" Kneeland. FA-18 Hornet pilot. Squadron VFA-25

This is 32-year-old Lt Kneeland's first carrier deployment.

The rookie jet fighter pilot, callsign "Knuckles", currently flies missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan.

He is in pursuit of the last remnants of Taleban and al-Qaeda forces.

If it comes to war with Iraq, Knuckles will be called upon to "deliver" the ordinance - including laser-guided smart bombs - on key Iraqi targets.

Knuckles is married and while we were filming he received news that his wife is pregnant with their first child.

His immediate concern is how he will perform in combat.

His greatest fear is that he will not return to see his unborn child.

Knuckles' routine is relentless, hardly being able to peel off his helmet - his sleeping quarters are almost as claustrophobic as his flying suit.

But he remains continuously focused on his mission for his country and president.

Chief Warrant Officer Mike Patrick - Air Boatswain Mate
"This whole situation on 9/11 gave everybody a reality check"
Chief Warrant Officer Mike Patrick. Air boatswain mate

Boson Patrick is in overall charge of all the "yellow shirts", the energetic "pack of hounds" - as he calls them - who control flight deck operations.

It is an extraordinarily tough, dangerous and demanding job.

Average temperatures on deck are 55C (130F) in the Gulf.

Their "office desk" is rarely a few feet away from the terrible noise and super-heated fury of jet engines constantly at peak throttle.

Boson Patrick has been based on carriers for the last 17 years.

His biggest regret is that he missed out on the first Gulf War.

His greatest concern is that this will happen to him again - he is ready and eager for confrontation, to put his skills to the real test.

Aviation Maintenance Third Class Jill Ameperosa - Plane captain, VFA-113
"I have one of the dirtiest jobs on the carrier"
Aviation Maintenance Third Class Jill Ameperosa. Plane captain, VFA-113

Jill Ameperosa, 24, has a demanding role on the carrier.

It's all very well to see the fighters take off, but they need precision maintenance.

This is where Jill's job meets the front line.

This means that when a jet comes in at 0200, it has to be ready to fly again eight hours later. Serviced and cleaned. Fuelled, armed and ready for action.

She and the team of 16 men working underneath her - Jill refers to them as "my kids" - work the graveyard shift.

Jill has a three-year-old son and is in the process of getting divorced from her husband. Her husband is in the US Navy too, and they rarely see each other.

Her son is looked after by her mother.

Jill's biggest concern is making sure her team make it safely through the night.

Her greatest fear is that her son will not recognise her when she finally makes it home.

Electrician's Mate Fireman Naveed Muhammad - Food service attendant
"I'm looking forward to getting back to my electrician's job in nine days"
Electrician's Mate Fireman Naveed Muhammad. Food service attendant

Out of the USS Abraham Lincoln's crew of 6000, Naveed Muhammad is the only Muslim on board.

He would support a widening of the war against terrorism to include Iraq if it was directed against Saddam Hussein, who he believes has profaned his religion.

Has he felt conflict between his religion and his military duties?

"Not yet - as a Muslim, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 go against everything that Islam is about. You cannot pick and choose when to apply the tenets of the religion," says Muhammad.

As a trainee aircraft electrician, he is serving the first two months of the carrier's six-month deployment in the mess decks as a food service attendant.

Muhammad became engaged shortly before the ship embarked.

On a rare (and expensive) call home on one of the ship's call phones he learned that his fiancée was about to be evicted from their apartment for not paying the rent.

She asked him what he's going to do about it.

Concentrating on home is tough, he admits - especially when "we're sailing around the middle of the ocean about to go to war with Iraq."

Warship, Sunday 1 December 2002 on BBC Two at 2100 GMT

Producer: Anthony Makin
Presenter: Peter Snow
Editor: Karen O'Connor
Deputy Editor: David Belton
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey


See also:

20 Oct 01 | Americas
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