- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003


   For too many of his 96 days at sea, Ken Watts was going around in circles.
   The Tracy’s Landing, Md., resident, who finally made it home Saturday, served as second engineer on the Cape Washington.
   The ship is a U.S. merchant marine vessel that transported armored vehicles and other cargo for the Army’s 4th Infantry Division troops to use in the war against Iraq.
   But a political impasse stranded his ship off the coast of Turkey when Ankara refused to allow a northern front to develop from its territory.
   So the 697-foot, six-deck vessel circled.
   “The hardest part of the whole thing was waiting,” Mr. Watts said.
   Eventually, the ship put into port in Kuwait and delivered its cargo.
   The U.S. government recognized the 24-person crew of the Cape Washington yesterday in Baltimore with Merchant Marine Expeditionary Medals.
   The medal is awarded to men and women who serve aboard U.S.-flagged ships in support of operations involving American and allied military forces.
   The ship’s journey started in late January at the Port of Baltimore, continued to Beaumont, Texas, then through the Straits of Gibraltar, the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf.
   It ended at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday when the ship returned to Baltimore, and Mr. Watts was able to see his wife and three children for the first time in more than three months.
   “It’s just what we do, I guess,” Mr. Watts said of the ship’s effort.
   Merchant mariners served on U.S.-flagged ships that carried more than 80 percent of the weapons, equipment and supplies for Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration, which is a division of the Department of Transportation.
   “This operation will go down as the most successful sealift in American history,” said Capt. William Schubert, the Maritime Administration’s administrator.
   As part of the war’s massive logistical operations, U.S.-flagged ships transported AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, multiple-launch rocket systems, Humvees, fuel tankers, bulldozers and other combat-engineering equipment, and ammunition.
   If put all together at the same place at the same time, the cargo transported by ship for Operation Iraqi Freedom would cover about 220 football fields, according to the Maritime Administration.
   The Cape Washington is part of the Ready Reserve Force, a fleet of 68 ships owned by the Maritime Administration.
   Forty of those ships, crewed by about 5,000 merchant mariners who volunteered for the assignment, participated in the recent effort to oust Saddam Hussein.
   The mariners received anthrax and smallpox vaccinations to protect against biological weapons, and then headed into the war zone on unarmed ships.
   “It can be very stressful,” said Roslyn Brooks, chief cook on the Cape Washington.
   “But it’s not that difficult, because you’re in the middle of a family,” said Miss Brooks, a Chesapeake, Va., resident.
   Miss Brooks was responsible for feeding the crew three meals a day.
   “Sometimes the only thing they have to look forward to is a hot meal,” she said.
   Other crew passed the time with video games and DVDs, and the constant running around involved in keeping the vessel in good repair.
   From a work standpoint, being out at sea is difficult,” said Paul Cammaroto, the ship’s chief engineer. “You know the old adage is, ‘When you’re at sea, you can’t walk home.’”
   

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