View Full Version : Dad gets taste of what it's like to ship out

12-30-07, 06:51 AM
Dad gets taste of what it's like to ship out
Posted: Dec. 28, 2007

Laurel Walker

Mike Hoeft, a city planner in Waukesha, couldn't wait to get aboard the ship. His son, Andy, couldn't wait to get off.

Marine Cpl. Andrew Hoeft, 25, had just spent the last six months aboard the USS Enterprise - ahhh, if only it were a starship - tending to F-18 bomber jets in the Persian Gulf. About two weeks ago, his dad joined him for something called a "Tiger Cruise," a three-day jaunt between the Mayport Naval Port in Florida and the home port in Norfolk, Va.

It's a public relations and recruiting tool, a way for the Navy to strut its stuff for loyal family and friends of sailors and Marines assigned to the ship. About 1,200 "tigers" - visitors who had a son, daughter or other sponsor there - took part in this cruise.

"I was happy to see him again, but to be honest with you, I would have rather gotten off with the rest of my squadron," Andy said afterward. "There wasn't anything left for me to do" between Florida and Virginia.

He's done plenty already, enlisting in the Marines four years ago after his concerned parents delayed his sign-up when he was still in high school. When he finally did enlist, both Mike and Virginia Hoeft recalled the recruiter saying that their son - who by 2004 was older and with some college credits under his belt - wouldn't be sent to Iraq.

Because college classes in electrical engineering helped him score well on tests, he specialized in avionics, the job of making sure the planes are fit to fly. After training, he was deployed to a land base in Anbar province west of Baghdad for seven months.

Virginia Hoeft, a Spanish teacher at Waukesha West High School, said she was "terrified and cried a lot," but at least felt he was more secure than had he been in the infantry going door-to-door in Fallujah or Baghdad. He was able to stay in touch by e-mail, but gaps of days or a week, or when he was assigned to guard duty at the base gate, "gave me a sick feeling in my stomach," she said.

After a few months back in the States, he was then redeployed for the past six months to the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It felt more secure to the parents, but less appealing to Andy.

"Six months is too long to be on a ship," Andy said as he and his dad headed home to Waukesha. Especially, he said, on a ship of about 5,000 Navy men and women and only about 200 Marines.

Mike Hoeft got a taste of the conditions and - though appreciative of the experience - is glad the cruise wasn't any longer.

He met up with his son Dec. 16 at Mayport, his first chance to see him since last July.

"A lot of what you do," Mike Hoeft said about the experience, "is wait."

The Enterprise is the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, first launched in 1960. It is 1,123 feet long, which, if stood on end, would stretch nearly to the top of the Empire State Building. Its flight deck is nearly 4 1/2 acres in size. Though parts of it have been remodeled, the Marines were in the oldest untouched quarters.
Crowded quarters

Mike Hoeft and his son slept in a rack of bunks stacked three deep in a berth of 36.

"It wasn't terrible," he said, "just tight." With his elbow on the 2-inch mattress, he could touch the steel bunk platform above him. Climbing into the bed reminded Mike of high-jump form in track: "You lay flat and slide over."

The lockers were "teeny." He had to invent a spot to put his glasses at night beside his bed. Aisles are narrow. The bathrooms were small and unsightly. There was usually a line for a shower in the morning, and hot water didn't always last.

There were a lot of ladders to climb between decks. The flight deck was above, and the hangar deck where planes were stored and a lot of their activities took place was three decks below. The mess area was a deck below that.

The food? "Not that good," said Mike Hoeft, though some of the Marines and sailors said it was above par to please the visitors.

Announcements used what sounded like a lot of archaic Navy terms, he said, and he was especially amused by a bored-sounding voice at 6 a.m. reciting, "Reveille, reveille, all hands heave to and trice up."

His son gave him a ship's tour. Most impressive, he said, was an afternoon air show from the flight deck, where it was so windy the "tigers" could hardly stand up.

"We got to stand there (with earplugs in) as they launched planes on the catapult, 30 feet away from the line of flight," Mike Hoeft said. "The engines were so loud your whole body is vibrating with the sound. The roar of the engines when they passed almost hurt."

They also got demonstrations of planes dropping bombs at sea, machine guns taking out targets, planes breaking the sound barrier and landing with a tailhook.

Besides making sure the plane's electronics are operating, Andy Hoeft's job is to make sure the catapult connection is in order. Once it is, he signals the "shooter," who - from a kneeling position and ready to duck as the plane passes overhead - points to the sea notifying the pilot he can take off.

"As impressive as that was," Mike Hoeft said, " the next day the remaining 18 jets had to fly off" - one right after another - so they could head to their home base.

"I was kind of excited," he said, but as he turned around to look at his son, he saw that Andy wasn't, having seen the same thing every day for six months.

"He was really bored being on the ship," Mike Hoeft said later. "So I thanked him for doing this."

The ship arrived in Norfolk on Dec. 19 to throngs of cheering, banner-holding, flag-waving people. Thousands of servicemen and women were arriving home to anxious and happy families.

Father and son left that day for the drive back to Waukesha, where Andy could enjoy a real bed and Christmas with his parents, sister and brother. He returns to his Marine air base in Beaufort, N.C., on Thursday.

He has one more year of service and doesn't expect to return to Iraq.

"I don't plan on staying in," Andy said, "but I think it was a good experience for me. Just being a Marine teaches you a lot. It definitely changes you."

Yes, he added, for the better.

Mike and Virginia Hoeft breathe a little easier these days now that Andy is home from the Middle East. But it's only a short respite.

Their younger son, John, 18, has enlisted in the Marine infantry.

"Just when we thought we were out of the woods . . . ," said his worried mother.

Call Laurel Walker at (262) 650-3183 or e-mail lwalker@journalsentinel.com