- Associated Press - Saturday, May 20, 2017

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Two months out from their home port of Pearl Harbor, the crew of the destroyer USS O’Kane has a top priority as they visit Juneau for five days.

“It’s food,” said Cmdr. Colby Sherwood, Commanding Officer of the O’Kane.

“Food and booze,” clarified Rhiannon Ladwig, a sailor sitting in the O’Kane’s mess on Monday.

“Food is a big one, and for some, they’ll also partake in alcoholic beverages,” Sherwood admitted. “It’s clearly on the agenda, so we talk about drinking responsibly.”

For the nearly 300 people aboard the O’Kane, Juneau is a welcome rest stop regardless of the agenda.

“This is a pure liberty port for us,” Sherwood said. “(The crew) deserve it.”

Since leaving Pearl Harbor, the O’Kane and its crew have trained at one of the U.S. Navy’s Hawaiian ranges, served as the “bad guy” in drills with the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, visited San Diego for four days of maintenance, sailed north to the Gulf of Alaska, and drilled for two weeks in the Gulf with the U.S. Air Force and two other ships.

“They haven’t had the weekends off to decompress and do fun stuff, so this is their opportunity,” Sherwood said of his crew. “A lot of sailors just want to get off the ship.”

“We’re within 505 feet of 300 sailors” for three months, Sherwood said. “You just want to get away.”

Anyone who runs into a sailor on the town should just say hello, he said.

“Sailors are really excited about their jobs; get their perspective. They’ll generally be more than happy to talk about it,” he said.

While in Juneau, some of the O’Kane’s crew members have booked hotel rooms ashore, hauling backpacks and bags to and from the launch that departs every 30 minutes from the U.S. Coast Guard’s downtown floating dock.

Shipboard living space is cramped. Enlisted crew sleep in “racks” stacked three high, with just 24 inches between the bed above.

The food, while high quality, “gets monotonous,” Sherwood said.

Without prompting, he was able to recite an entire week’s menu, including a description of the “hamsters” - prepackaged chicken cordon bleu.

“Good food is a definite,” said crewman Greg Sherwood of his plans for shore. “I like to go different places and try the food from that area. So when you go into San Diego, you go and get some good Mexican food. When you come up here, you’ll get the crab legs and that kind of stuff.”

The Rockwell - named for a U.S. Navy officer - might be a destination for some of the O’Kane’s crew, but others said they visited the Wharf, McGivney’s and destinations near the shore.

“I literally walked across the street and saw that McGivney’s restaurant and said, there you go,” Ladwig said.

Michael Lesko is a culinary specialist aboard the O’Kane. It doesn’t offend him when his fellow sailors say they’re interested in what’s to eat.

“It really doesn’t, just because some of the things we have to take into account - we have to stay at sea for three months at a time. Think about the food you have in your home. It doesn’t stay good in your refrigerator for that long,” he said.

For his part, Lesko said he’s interested in Juneau’s museums.

“I’m a history person myself, so I like to go out and see what each place has to offer, because each place has its history,” he said.

Sailor Ryan Grabill said he’s looking out for hiking and ziplining, “things I’m not going to be able to do or see in Hawaii,” he said. “I’ve never been to Alaska, so I’m going to get in as much as I possibly can.”

Senior Chief Electrician’s Mate Edward Beams has been in the Navy longer than some of his sailors have been alive. (The average age of the O’Kane’s sailors is about 21.)

He visited the Mendenhall Glacier on Sunday and crossed Alaska off his list of states to visit. It was the last state on his list.

“Early on in my career, it was basically partying and all of that stuff. But you can go ahead and do that at any given time,” he said. “Nowadays, I mainly just go and see places that I know I’ll never ever see ever again.”


Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, https://www.juneauempire.com

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