Cover Story

Sailing into harm's way

"Sailing into harm's way" Continued...

Issue: "The surge is on," Feb. 3, 2007

A little older and a lot saltier, Command Master Chief Joe Curtin said his crew tries to ignore congressional sniping. "Most people in Congress don't have any idea how things work in the military," said Curtin, who manages morale and human resources issues for the Stennis' enlisted personnel.

Under Curtin's charge is Matthew Hepburn, 24, a communications specialist who has served in the Navy for barely a year. When the Stennis sailed from Bremerton on Jan. 16, banner-waving families crowded onto the pier to wave tearful goodbyes. But only a few sailors embarked in San Diego and, as the first tinge of dawn fired the western sky, only Hepburn's mom and dad stood shivering in the sea-salt chill.

Wearing a "Navy Dad" ball cap, Alan Hepburn said those in Congress who say they support the troops but not the mission sound like double-talkers in a parent's ears. "I don't like it at all," he said when asked about upcoming anti-war resolutions. "It tells the troops over there that the country's not really behind them."

Sandy Hepburn, meanwhile, stands beside her husband, struggling with an emotional tangle of pride and sadness. "One minute I'm smiling and telling everyone about Matthew, and in the next moment suddenly I just start crying," she said, holding back tears. "But I know he's doing something he wants to do." Twenty miles west, the sun peeks over the mountains of Mexico, brushing low clouds with gold. The water in San Diego Bay is smooth and silver as the tugboats nudge the Stennis away from Pier L toward the deep channel that will take the Hepburns' son to war.

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