MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- In the halls of a floating, steel island, time seems to move differently. The sun moves ominously across the horizon, which circles as far as the eye can see. The world that exists beyond seems far from reach.
At any given time, mammoth aircraft carriers are at sea for weeks, often months.
Meanwhile, inside the depths, a crew of nearly 6,000 Sailors and Marines live the sea life.
“The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome on ship is adapting to sea life,” said Cpl. Brian J. Coffey, seat mechanic, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115. “Here we sleep in smaller racks and live in closer quarters with the Marines.”
The Silver Eagles of VMFA-115 are deployed aboard the USS Harry S. Truman for a 30-day workup, which is in preparation for a six-month deployment slated in October.
“I don’t like the close quarters,” Coffey said. “I like my space, and you don’t get that here.”
Every morning, nearly half the Marines wake while half return to their beds to sleep. Many Marines have to get used to sleeping in a two-foot by six-foot bed that has only two feet of headspace. Racks are stacked three high with three other neighboring beds.
In addition to dealing with different living conditions, Marines have to adjust to not being near family and friends, according to Coffey.
“It’s hard being away from my wife, Nicole, and my family,” said Sesser, Ill., native Cpl. Burton O. Grimes, tool room, VMFA-115. “You get used to coming home and seeing them, but here you don’t have them.”
There are limited ways to keep in touch with loved ones, which include mail, electronic mail and phone calls.
“E-mail helps a lot, but it is no replacement for seeing her,” Grimes said.
One factor that keeps Marines’ minds off those at home is their busy work schedule.
“Here we work 12 hours on and 12 hours off,” Coffey said. “There is non-stop action. There is maintenance in the morning and the flight schedule in the afternoon, which runs late into the evening.”
On ship, work sections are consolidated into tightly organized areas. Many workspaces are less than half the size of the section at the Air Station. However, working in tight proximity offers a few advantages.
“I feel closer to the personnel in my shop,” Coffey said. “They’re the people you’re really with non-stop for 12-hours a day.”
Although Marines develop a closer camaraderie to those in their shop or on their shift, many feel further away from those on the other shift, because they rarely ever see them, according to Grimes.
“I like the fact that being on ship gives the newer Marines a chance to learn their jobs without any distractions,” Grimes said.
The Silver Eagles are a fairly fresh squadron, according to Coffey. The squadron has about 40 new Marines.
Throughout the day, Marines cycle their way onto the mess deck, or galley, for food. Despite more than three areas for Marines to get food, the lines are almost always packed with hungry crewmembers.
“The line for chow is long,” Coffey said. “You have to wait at least 20 minutes to eat a full meal, instead of like at home where you can eat whenever you want to.”
There is little variety in most Marines’ lives on ship, according to Grimes. Grimes, like many other Marines, goes to work, then eats, works out and finally sleeps.
“After work, I go to the gym and then sleep,” Coffey said. “After a 12-hour day and working out for a couple hours, you’re pretty toasted.”