Standish native spends year at sea on aircraft carrier
STANDISH — Since joining the U.S. Navy, Airman Amanda Evenson has traveled around the globe on the high seas.
The 23-year-old Standish native has been aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. She works as an aviation ordnanceman — effectively handling the bombs, missiles and other weaponry aboard the ship — but prior to that, she was someone trying to think of a way to afford a college education and help her family.
“I don’t have the money to just go to college, and the military offers great educational benefits,” Evenson said. “I’m trying to get (my grandma) onto my medical benefits right now — it’s about a year-long process — so she’ll have medical insurance.”
Evenson said she comes from a military family, with relatives and ancestors in the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force. She initially enlisted in in the Navy in September 2011, the first in her family to enter that branch, and left for boot camp in April 2012.
“Boot camp is not like what it used to be,” she said. “It’s not completely difficult. They do keep your stress level way up there, but you become a family, and once you get out of the boot camp, that’s something you have in common with everyone else in the military — that you went through boot camp. It makes you feel like a family right from the get-go.”
Following boot camp, Evenson said she went to Pensacola, Fla., for three months to get her aviation ordnance training before being assigned to the John C. Stennis. From there, she primarily found herself in the Indian and Pacific oceans, stopping at ports in places such as Bahrain, Singapore, Hawaii and San Diego.
Being close with other members of her rate — the Navy equivalent of a department — and the crew of the ship as a whole is vital, as Evenson said being out to sea for long stretches of time can get to a person.
“The first couple days when you wake up, the water being around you is beautiful,” Evenson said. “After those first couple days it gets boring, and after the first week and a half paranoia sets in and you think, ‘There’s no land for hundreds of miles,’ and if anything happens you’re never going to see land again.”
She said it can also be difficult to communicate with the outside world reliably, as sometimes the ship finds itself in places where phone and internet service need to be shut off. Evenson added that their official Navy emails are always running, even if the crew is unable to check them regularly.
She said the crew has to work hard on the ship, and as such does not get a whole lot of downtime. Her own job involves “a lot of inventory” and standing watch.
“You don’t get too much personal time, because it’s like a mini New York,” Evenson said. “You work a lot — work and sleep.”
“It’s honestly like a regular job. The only difference is you don’t get to come home after work,” she added.
One of her duties involves participating in replenishment at sea, or RAS, where supplies are loaded onboard and transferred, crewmember by crewmember, to their destinations. Evenson said everyone comes together in a display of teamwork to pass the boxes of supplies down the line, and that RASes provide an opportunity to really see what everyone on board is like.
Personal space is nearly nonexistent on board the carrier as well, Evenson said. Personal areas are limited to the rack each crewmember sleeps on — about the size of a coffin, she said — and every part of the ship outside of there is close quarters.
With part of her job requiring her to go down multiple decks by ladder in tight quarters, Evenson said she and the other aviation ordnancemen have a department joke.
“We sleep in our coffins, and work in our graves,” she quipped.
When the ship makes a port call, however, the crew usually gets the chance to unwind on shore. Evenson said while she has enjoyed visiting Singapore, Hawaii, Italy and Spain, Dubai is her favorite place to stop at so far.
“I would love to go back to Dubai,” Evenson said. “Dubai is absolutely gorgeous, just phenomenal.”
She said Singapore is also a remarkably clean and crime-free city, albeit an expensive one with extremely strict laws against theft and other crimes.
Ports also provide a chance to call back home, and Evenson said while the crew is not allowed to talk about the ship’s destinations before it arrives, she is able to go ashore and spend time talking with her family by phone once they make landfall.
Evenson also has been able to pick up gifts for her family while at port, as well as purchase some local goods for herself, such as clothing and jewelry.
While Evenson expects to continue to serve about the Stennis for a few more years, requiring her to re-enlist, after five years she will be eligible for shore duty, her current goal. After that, she believes with two enlistments under her belt, she will be in a good position to get her college education underway. She is hoping to earn degrees in graphic design, drawing and psychology. Evenson added she is already taking classes aboard the John C. Stennis.
On leave in May, Evenson said coming back from a deployment is proving to be tricky. The Navy makes its crew take classes on readjusting to being around friends and family again and putting those relationships back together, something Evenson did not think would be nearly as important as it has ended up being.
“You don’t know what to say,” she said. “People ask you a hundred questions, and you don’t want to think about it or talk about it. You just want to enjoy two weeks as a civilian, but you understand where people are coming from. They want to know.”