HOMEWARD BOUND
May 02, 2003 11:00 pm
 ().
().

Pilot story by Susan Schell

Photos courtesy of Justin Oman

Justin Oman has an unusual address. At this moment, the USS Abraham Lincoln is carving its way through the Pacific Ocean, headed for Washington state.

It is leaving the war in Iraq behind. The aircraft carrier is a virtual city at sea, carrying around 5,500 Navy troops. It is Oman's home.

"He lives there," said his mother, Karla Rogers. "He's over 6 feet tall and he sleeps in this tiny bunk."

The former Brookings-Harbor High School student graduated in 2000 and joined the Navy that August. While aboard the floating megalopolis, he visited ports in Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and China.

Last December, the carrier had completed a six-month deployment in the Arabian Gulf, conducting operations in support of the global war on terrorism.

In January, the Lincoln was heading home after a port visit to Australia. The troops then received word that they were being called back to the Gulf to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This is the first carrier deployment lasting longer than nine months since 1973 and the longest deployment for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Oman sent an e-mail to his cousin, Lisa Orozco in Brookings, explaining how he felt.

"I think it was hard on everyone at first when we got the news we were turning around. One moment you're thinking finally we're going home, then the next we are headed to war, to the place we just left and for how much longer we had no idea. But we had a job to do. It's what we train for day in and day out."

"We're very close," Orozco said of the relationship with her cousin.

"My 8-year-old son, Jessie, has pictures of him all over the walls in his bedroom. Justin was really good at explaining the war to Jessie. It was easier for him than it was for me."

"When the war broke out I was very upset," said Rogers.

"They fired the first missiles on Iraq. This ship was the one that did all that ‘shock and awe.' Justin was right in the middle of it all."

Even though she was "sad and scared," Rogers admitted she was relieved that her son was on the ship and not on shore.

"I thought ‘thank God he wasn't on the ground,' " she said.

"He was very safe on the ship. At least I got to communicate with him every once in a while, since he was around all that equipment. The guys on the ground couldn't do that."

Oman is an aviation ordinanceman third class. In an e-mail to Orozco, Oman explained his duties. "We inspect all ordinance (weapons) when it comes to the flight deck. When it comes back after a flight, we check it to make sure nothing is damaged."

Rogers recalls her son's sense of humor.

"There were so many photographers and film people around," she said with a laugh.

"Justin wrote ‘Oregon' on his helmet in big letters, so if we saw him on TV, we could pick him out."

The Abraham Lincoln's homeward journey was so publicized, President Bush chose its deck as the mid-sea platform for his presidential address last Thursday. That day was also Oman's birthday.

After a brief stop in San Diego on Friday, the Lincoln is expected to dock in its home port in Everett, Wash., Tuesday. The city is having a parade for the troops next Saturday.

Oman's mother and father, John Rogers, are driving up to greet him.

When asked what she will do when she sees her son, tears welled up in his mother's eyes.

"I'm going to cry," she said. "I cry just thinking about it. We're so proud of him."

She then laughs, showing where her son gets his sense of humor.

"I'll be so emotional. When he sees me, he'll probably run away."