This is goodbye

Debbie Nelson hugs her daughter Jasmine as her sone James looks down the pier at Indian Island. They watched as their dad and husband departed with the rest of the 500 sailers aboard the USS Bridge. The ship will join the Nimitz battle group in the Persian Gulf.  - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Debbie Nelson hugs her daughter Jasmine as her sone James looks down the pier at Indian Island. They watched as their dad and husband departed with the rest of the 500 sailers aboard the USS Bridge. The ship will join the Nimitz battle group in the Persian Gulf.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

“Let’s go,” says 25-year-old Jake Rose. The Navy sailor has just shaved his beard off, so his face is getting slapped from the hard ocean wind. Tattoos run up and down his forearms. He’s got a confident smile that can be mistaken for a smirk.

Rose, a Bremerton resident and Boatswains Mate Third Class on the naval supply ship USS Bridge, deployed Wednesday with about 500 of his shipmates for an undetermined cruise to the Arabian Sea.

Even though he is probably headed to war, he isn’t afraid of losing his life.

“For me this is what I do,” he said. “This is what I signed up for. There’s an understanding that we’re here to protect the freedom of this country. If my life is the ultimate price I pay for that, then I will pay that ultimate price.”

It is no mystery that his job is a dangerous one.

Everyone that signs up for the U.S. Navy, Marines, Army or Air Force knows exactly what they are getting into, Rose said.

“It is not something we talk about openly,” he said.

Rose is quick to snap a joke. He has already served in the Navy for two and a half years. He has been deployed before, but not in wartime.

“The most challenging aspect will be keeping everybody focused, keeping things in perspective,” Rose said.

He and his shipmates consider their vessel one of the safer ships in the fleet. The Bridge is a Bremerton-based fast combat support ship, loaded with 6.5 million gallons of fuel, 650 tons of food, and 1,800 tons of ammunition. Long, crane-like loading arms stretch up from its sides into the sky. It will offer supplies to the five guided missile cruisers and the destroyer USS Oldendorf in the Nimitz group.

“We may not do the fighting first hand but we make it possible,” Rose said.

Jonathan Zurn is a little more rigid in his hope than Rose.

“All I know is we are going and we are coming back. I see our ship as the safest in the Navy. I know we are coming back.”

While Marines training in Kuwait are already filling out “death letters” — where they say goodbye to their loved ones in case they are killed in battle — Zurn isn’t even thinking “bad thoughts.”

He doesn’t see the point.

All he is looking forward to is seeing his girlfriend when he comes back to port. Usually the deployments last six months, but they can go longer.

“I don’t even think bad thoughts when we are leaving like this,” Zurn said. “We are the support to all the other ships, so they look out for us.”

As Zurn chats openly, Bridge’s horn sounds off occasionally, counting down the seconds until the ladder is drawn up from the dock and the sailors are taken out to sea.

Within a couple minutes of departure, all family members and media have walked down the steel ladder and stand on the dock looking up at the gray steel sides.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six . . .” the countdown begins.

Stacey Newell was the last Navy wife to kiss her husband goodbye. They shared a long hug and a couple pecks before her eyes went wet with tears.

He climbed the ladder with a confident swagger and a mug of coffee in his hand. His shipmates chided him as he stepped aboard.

“In this time it is scary but the sooner they leave the sooner they come home,” Stacey Newell said from the dock. “That’s always the way to look at it.” Her eyes were glued on her husband.

When he is away (this is his second deployment) she finds larger family support in the other wives and husbands whose loved ones are away.

Still, she will miss the everyday company, like long chats over coffee.

Newell is in firm support of his job, regardless of the tears.

“The way he and I both feel is he joined the Navy for no other reason than to serve his country. You have to feel that way or it will drive you crazy when he’s gone.”

She corresponds through lots of letters when he is at sea.

“Then whenever there’s a port call all of them head for the nearest pay phones.”

While her husband is away, there is a huge gap in Newell’s closet at home. Most sailors bring on about six to eight full Navy outfits for different occasions. They also take aboard civilian clothes, and books if they enjoy reading. The whole mass ends up to about two or three duffel bags.

Next to Newell is Pam Rynearson, whose fiance Westbrook Harrison is on the Bridge. Her three children from a previous marriage pace around her, sometimes standing by her side, other times walking up near the ship for a closer look.

“You don’t like this at all, do you,” Harrison says to her 11-year-old son Andrew.

He shakes his head no.

Later, Andrew lightens up a little when he describes what the inside of the ship looks like. His dad brought him on for a personal tour earlier.

“It’s pretty big,” he said. “It’s all white and gray on the inside.”

His dad took him into the cockpit of a helicopter, one of two on board.

“It was real slippery. And it had a funny smell,” he said.

Next to Andrew was his 16-year-old brother Matt. Matt is a sophomore at Bremerton High School. A mustache is just starting to grow on his lip like his dad’s. Matt doesn’t want his dad to go.

“It is good he’s going to go protect us, but he’ll be back in six months.”

Usually, when his dad is around, he goes swimming or camping with Matt. They hang out and laugh, and they eat out a lot.

Matt is fearful of his dad’s safety. Although there are other kids at Bremerton High school whose dads or moms are away at sea, Matt says he doesn’t know any of them.

While Matt is speaking, his eyes peek over at the USS Bridge as it floats away from the dock. Next to him, mothers, children and husbands wave unceasingly until the boat is nearly 300 yards away.

“I’m going to stop waving now,” said Matt’s mom Pam. Moments later, she has both arms in the air, motioning goodbye to her fiance on the ship.

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