Sunday, September 9, 2001

Lt. Tyler Nekomoto of Kauai accelerated off the deck
of the USS Constellation. His F18 was launched with
a steam-driven catapult, shown in this picture from a
flight video on Wednesday.

Isle sailors enjoy
layover at home

Nothing beats ohana for these
servicemen, not even e-mail and
phones on the USS Constellation


By Gregg K. Kakesako

When Kauai resident David Nekomoto was flying UH-1 helicopters in South Vietnam's Delta region nearly four decades ago supporting the Navy's special operations missions he had to wait for two weeks for mail from home.

"Then it came in bundles and my mom had to number them so he could read the letters in order," said his son, Lt. Tyler Nekomoto, a 26-year-old F-18 Hornet combat pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Constellation. "She did the same with pictures."

Rocky Guzman, from the Big Island, is an aviation
electrician's mate aboard the USS Constellation.

But when Tyler "Tatto" Nekomoto was in the Persian Gulf in May, communication via e-mail with his family in Lawai was constant and almost simultaneous. "It's one of the most amazing things which has happened to this Navy," said Tyler, a 1992 Kauai High School graduate.

His father, a retired Navy commander, agreed, noting at times it was within minutes he would get a response from his son. "I would be sitting at my computer and there would be a message from him," David Nekomoto added.

Airman Apprentice Guysen Pauline, 19, also noted that conditions on the Constellation have changed considerably since his father, Guy, served on the same ship after the Vietnam War. The younger Pauline stayed in contact with his family in Waipahu with e-mail and phone cards.

The "Connie" just completed its 20th Western Pacific deployment. It is the second oldest ship in the U.S. Navy.

The aircraft carrier USS Constellation.

The Constellation received and sent 20,000 e-mails daily while at sea, Lt. Charlie Brown, the carrier's spokesman said. It will leave for San Diego -- its home port -- today after a five-day island visit.

"There are more than 1,000 unclassified computers on the Constellation," Brown added, which are available to the more than 5,500 sailors and Marines, who want to surf the Internet or communicate with their friends and families. There are also satellite phones which can be used to call home as long as a sailor has a phone card.

Arman Lagman drives the spotting dollies which
maneuver the planes around the hangar bay
aboard the USS Constellation.

Brown also said the Constellation has access to three satellite television channels, which capture network programming carried by the Armed Forces Radio-TV Network and five other channels, which carry taped television shows ranging from movies and soap operas to news programs and sporting events.

Still, for the nearly two dozen Hawaii residents assigned to the Constellation -- many of them on their first six-month deployment and just a few years out of high school -- the time at sea was a mixture of high tempo of work and long moments missing familiar island surroundings and food.

"There were launch alerts from 4:30 every morning while we were in the Gulf," said Guysen Pauline, whose job was to ensure that steam catapult operators correctly calculate the weight of each aircraft before it is launched from the deck of the carrier.

FA-18 pilot Tyler Nekomoto of Kauai is aboard the USS Constellation.

"That meant getting up at 3 every morning," Pauline said. "Everyone was tense. It was kind of hard."

Eighteen-hour work days were common during the three months the Constellation was in the Persian Gulf patrolling the no-fly zone over Iraq. Combat aviators like Nekomoto flew hundreds of missions and registered seven "strike" missions hitting key Iraqi targets.

But Petty Officer Ron Suzuki, a 1995 Pahoa High School graduate, said he wasn't phased by the long hours because as a radar and communications repair specialist, he was doing something he has wanted to do since he was a kid.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ron Suzuki is an aviation
electronic technician aboard the USS Constellation.

"You know there are kids who were always taking things apart," said Suzuki, 23. "I was the one who was able to put those things together." Working in the stern of the ship in an area affectionately called "the wind tunnel" because of the draft caused by the ship's air-conditioning system, Suzuki probably had the most comfortable spot on the Constellation and at times had to wear a jacket to work even though the temperature on the flight deck zoomed above 100 degrees.

Petty Officer Arman Lagman, who graduated from Roosevelt High School last year, fought off his moments of homesickness with informal jam sessions on his ukulele with a shipmate from Palolo.

As he stood on the bow of Constellation's 4.5-acre flight deck last week as it prepared to tie up at Pearl Harbor, Lagman could only think about the luau his family was planning to throw for him in Waipahu Wednesday night.

Guysen Pauline, a member of Waipahu High School's
class of 2000, is a weight-board operator aboard the
ship. He said he hopes to someday work at the
console for Catapult 2

"There will be poi, pipikaula, squid luau, lomi and all that good stuff," said Lagman, 19. "I'm inviting my shipmates to that party and then there's 10 days of leave."

Even though Lagman, a "townie" surfer who likes the waves off Magic Island and Oahu's South Shore, got to surf in Australia, he said Hawaii's waves are still the best. "The surf was two feet at Perth (in Australia), sort of like Sandy's, but murky," he added.

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