The San Diego-based aircraft carrier Carl Vinson was full of holiday cheer Sunday, as its skeleton crew of about 400 sailors sat down to what will probably be the finest meal they’ll eat aboard the ship for the next five to six months.
The carrier, docked at Coronado Naval Base, is scheduled to deploy early next month with some 5,000 sailors and Marines aboard — for a mission to the other side of the world.
Along with its strike group of smaller ships, jet fighters and helicopters, the Vinson is set to cruise the South China Sea and nearby waters. It’s expected to help protect trade routes, exert an American presence in international waters and, perhaps most importantly, stand ready to do whatever else is asked — be it responding to a security risk or providing relief after a natural disaster.
The sailors and Marines will soon leave behind their families before heading out to sea, but on Sunday, many of them were able to share Christmas with the people they love. Together they watched basketball and savored a special holiday feast of prime rib, turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and much more. There was even a Christmas tree-shaped cake.
For those whose families came aboard, the holiday was a rare opportunity to show off their workplace.
“Today’s unique because we allow family to come,” said Captain Doug Verissimo, who guided his wife and son around the carrier. “We want to honor and cherish those families’ sacrifice.”
The sailors aboard the Vinson on Sunday were working to maintain and protect the aircraft carrier so their shipmates could take the holiday off, Verissimo said.
The ship requires constant staffing because practically everything — the plumbing, the heating, the lights, the sewer system, the climate control features — is run by sailors, he added.
While the Vinson is still at its home port, crew members can go home after their long shifts, said Rashaud Landrum, 31, an aviation electronics technician. He said he came aboard this morning and that his family would join him later in the day.
Landrum said he was glad to spend part of Christmas Day with his wife and children. He wasn’t so lucky when he deployed in 2014.
“We missed Christmas — and everything else,” he said. “Every single one of my kids’ birthdays.”
Culinary specialist Javion Martin, 19, said his family was gathering back home in Louisiana. It was his first time spending the holiday apart from his loved ones, but he was enjoying the time anyway.
“I really like the Navy,” Martin said. “This is actually a good place to be.”
Sean Chase, 36, avionics technician first class, was partaking in the ship’s holiday meal with his wife, Sara, and their 2-year-old daughter, Alyssa.
He said the upcoming deployment won’t be his first, but it will probably be one of his hardest. It’s the first time he will leave behind his spouse and child.
“Guys with family, I always felt bad for them on deployment,” Chase said. “It’s going to be hard, but it’s my job and my duty, and it’s cool to say you did it after it’s done.”