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Deployed holiday lineup
Life aboard an aircraft carrier, sometimes called a “floating city” housing more than 5,000 crew members, is bustling. But during long deployments over the holiday season, sailors may feel alone even in such a crowd.
Homesickness for families and holiday traditions is common during this time. So to fight off the winter blues, the Stennis Morale Wellness and Recreation office and ombudsmen are putting together a program of special events and coordinating care packages from home.
“The command does not make the care packages. A carrier is so large that it would be impossible to make that many,” said Tina Debow, USS Stennis Ombudsman.
However, Debow explained that families often provide more than enough goodies. Anything that can fit into a priority mail-sized box is fair game. The only prohibited items are flammables, illegal substances and pornography.
“I’m not at liberty to say how, but there is a screening process for each package,” said Debow.
Ombudsmen try to make it easy for families to get these items to the right location in time for pick up for designated mail drops. The exact time of drops to the carrier is sensitive for the security of the crew, but families will receive an email instructing them of the proper ‘drop spot.’
Drop spot package collection is often handled by ombudsmen or volunteer wives at their homes.
Families are cautioned against putting any package drop information on Facebook or other social media outlets.
Holiday care package favorites include photos, hand-written letters, sentimental holiday movies, current magazines, candy, and home-made cookies.
Debow warned that families should take note of the ship’s location when sending perishable items.
“If it is freezing cold or burning hot where they’re going, you could have a problem. If you send chocolates, they would be a puddle by the time it gets to your sailor,” said Debow.
In previous years, the Girl Scouts of America have sent the Stennis mass shipments of Christmas cookies according to Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Fields, Stennis public affairs officer.
“Those are always appreciated. We spread them around the ship the best we can,” said Fields.
Also appreciated are letters and drawings made by elementary school students from around the country. The heartwarming thoughts reach sailors who may not have received a care package from home.
Some wives get together and send special stockings for their husbands’ entire department. According to Debow, it can be a big task, but for some wives it is a great tradition.
“Aircraft deployments are very different. Some wives do find that they prefer the longer ones out rather than three weeks in quick turn around because they have time to adjust to life and get into a routine,” said Tom Danaher, public affairs officer for Naval Base Kitsap.
On board, there are some special events for sailors looking to get into the holiday spirit. According to Fields, on Thanksgiving there will be a holiday feast accompanied by a small concert through Navy entertainment who is sending a professional violinist to the carrier operating in the Indian Ocean.
There will also be holiday movies featured on the ship’s big screen. Movies for special events are sometimes shown in the hangar bay, picnic-style with snacks.
During Christmas, the Stennis will port and sailors will have the opportunity to call home by phone and take holiday tours in their port location. All tours are coordinated by Morale Wellness and Recreation who the crew calls “the fun boss.”
On New Year’s Eve, there will be a party aboard the ship.
“We don’t serve alcohol on the ship unless the ship has been at sea for a certain period without a port visit. Ships can request it if they’ve been without a visit for a number of days, but this year the Stennis won’t be getting alcohol,” said Fields.
In addition to on board festivities, religious services for various beliefs are available through the Stennis chaplain.
“We do what we can to make sure these guys have what they need,” said Fields.