Friday, September 15, 2006
Berthing doesn't mean what you think it does
Boarding a Navy ship is a little like traveling to England: The fact that people are speaking English veils how different things really are -- from the culture to the way people live to even how the language is used.

When I first boarded the USS Tortuga to shoot a short documentary film, entire conversations eluded me due to their strange vocabulary and acronym-laced verbiage. Sure, I had read books on the military before my departure, but I had focused on strategic issues, like why the U.S. military was in certain countries or where it was training foreign militaries, not the day-to-day lives of sailors. After all, we were there to witness the Navy's exercises with six Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea.

But within the first day or two, co-producer Lee Wang and I realized the big Navy strategy story we hoped to record was only the backdrop to what was much more fascinating -- the lives of ordinary sailors who make the ship run.

So we followed three sailors -- Ensign John Cobb, Undesignated Seaman Mike Plitt, and Boatswain's Mate Seaman Noelle Tschudy -- as they went about their lives.

I spent the night in a women's "berthing" (dormitory-style rooms with bunk beds and lockers) and watched Noelle, a 21-year-old New Jersey native with red streaks in her hair, wake up at 3 a.m. for her shift to watch for small boats that the ship's radars might miss. When Mike's boss ordered him to fix a broken water machine in the mess hall, I watched him find the clogged pipe and without a moment of hesitation, put his mouth to the pipe to suction what looked like gunk at the bottom of a drain.

I had never seen people in their early 20s work so hard and give so much of themselves. Many nights, Lee and I struggled with the question, "What is this all for?" But the more we got to know the individual sailors and their reasons for joining the Navy, the less the big naval strategy questions seemed to matter. It might have been a troubled family or a life of partying leading to nowhere. But the people I met were those who had the gumption to get away and do something interesting with their lives.

(Watch Emily and Lee's documentary on life on a Navy ship -- 10:28)
Posted By Emily Taguchi, Berkeley Student: 2:17 PM ET
Sounds like a great story, excellent job, can't wait to hear more. What a great nation we have with wonderful people willing to do what they do for us. God Bless them!
Posted By Anonymous TS Coastal SC : 3:04 PM ET
Hey Emily!
Your article describing your experience aborad the USS Tortuga (I love that name)is fasinating! Are you excited about this airing on 360? I can tell you have a tenacious personality and I know this will be a wonderful piece. Congratulations Emily. I'll be watching!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 3:06 PM ET
They are really awesome. My hat goes off to them. They really do a great job. Jobs that they do, a lot of us would not do. I don't see many people on line for enlistment.
Posted By Anonymous Maria Ntl City, Ca : 3:21 PM ET
Living in Yorktown, VA, I come in contact daily with various members of our Armed Forces. I am always amazed at the level of dedication I see in these young folks. As a prior member of the Air Force and a spouse of an retired Air Force member, I am proud of those who currently serve our country. It's not a safe world, but they make it a better one. As mentioned in your article, some may have left a troubled home life behind. They may not have been able to change their situation at home - so they are making a difference now.
Posted By Anonymous Lori, Yorktown VA : 3:57 PM ET
As tragic as it is, all of those children fighting and dying in our military, this story finally brings to light a positive side for me. In the past week I have heard about a nineteen-year-old, who I've known all of his life, get shot in the face by a "friend" who "didn't know the gun was loaded" and two other teenaged brothers I've know for a decade get busted by a SWAT team for getting involved with a "really cool" drug dealer named Spank.

I'm extremely anxious to watch your show tonight to see young people who actually have some clear direction in their lives. Not only am I extremely grateful for the hard work they are doing for their country, I'm immensely impressed by their strength, courage and willpower. Thank you for finally giving us something positive to focus on in all of this #%&*.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, Manchester, NH : 4:13 PM ET

My dixie cup - er, hat, off to you and Lee. I plan on watching tonight.

I am a Navy veteran. I was a Radioman (today it's IT) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was on station in the Arabian Gulf in 1981, around the time Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was killed. During a 7-month deployment onboard the USS AMERICA (an aircraft carrier), we had only 4 portcalls, and we had to rely on surface mail that sometimes took weeks to get to us. When I returned, people couldn't understand what I did. And they didn't want to.

I am now a fulltime college student majoring in history. I am proud of my service. When the subject comes up - and I don't volunteer it too often - my fellow students are appreciative of what I did what seems so long ago.

And I hope - and pray - that documentaries like yours convinces our fellow countrymen to appreciate the sacrifice of those on ships like the Tortuga.

Fair winds and following seas to you and Lee!
Posted By Anonymous Scot Douglas Celley, Columbia, PA : 4:24 PM ET
As a college student majoring in political science, I absolutely love to see stories like this getting a little airtime.

More often than not, I hear everyone from Baby Boomers to senior citizens complain about how our world will allegedly unravel like a rug when America's youth finally becomes America's leaders.

Thanks for helping to shift the focus away from the cell phone-clutching youth who care more about 50 Cent than the 50 states, and rather giving young people with something to say a well-deserved outlet.

With that said, I think I'll go send a few dozen text messages and trick out my MP3 player... Just kidding.
Posted By Anonymous Wendy, Dresden, TN : 5:54 PM ET
These are my people, young Sailors. I am a retired Navy Chief and I can tell you that the people you find in the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and the "other two services" are the finest this nation has to offer. They are often "disadvantaged" but smart enough and focused enough to find their own way. These people are the cream of the crop. Few people outside of the military know this, but fewer than 35% of the population under the age of 35 EVEN QUALIFY for military service because of physical, educational or criminal reasons.

These kids are great and many of them will continue their military careers and be the leaders of our nation's forces ten to fifteen years from now. Most of those who leave the service will do so with a confidence previously unknown and will excell at whatever they endeavor due to what they discovered about themselves from the challenges that they have endured.

To those on the USS Tortuga, Fair Winds and Following Seas Shipmates, God Speed you home safe and sound.
Posted By Anonymous ETC(SW) Gene Gysin USN RET Fairborn, Ohio : 9:56 PM ET
just watched the piece. amazing stuff. as the son of a navy man, it was really nice to see the other side of the service. it's the people that make the military something to be proud of.

mike z
Posted By Anonymous mike z, san francisco, ca : 1:18 AM ET
Were there Marines aboard during the filming? The limited 'space' always amazes me. Just a small world note AC, the USS Tortuga responded to the post-Katrina crisis. All US Navy ships have history on the web which is interesting to some of us. It did look like the students had fair winds and following seas.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista, ar : 3:32 AM ET
Hi Emily and Miss Wang,

I am Mike Plitt the one featured on the show, formally known as Undesignated Deck Seaman Plitt, shortyly after the two of you had gone I had found out I passed my advancement exam and was advanced to the rate and rank of Gunners Mate Third Class (GM3), I would like to send out a thank you, for showing our nation what we do for them. Although hard at first it pays off to see comments like these on here and to hear people from home giving a thanks We all really appriciate you shedding some light on the case of myself and my fellow shipmates thanks again!
Posted By Anonymous GM3 Plitt Sasebo Japan : 12:37 PM ET
Emily: Thanks for bringing us into your experience on the USS Tortuga. It was fascinating. Got to give these sailors credit for their dedication. It's sad to see so many of them cigarette smoking though! I suppose that is just a small vice in comparison to everything else they do...
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 3:53 PM ET
As one of the people video taped and interviewed during those 9 days i would like to say that emily and lee did a fantastic job. capturing what the navy is really like. Its hard and yes its stressful bu there are alot worse things that we could be doing. it tells you what the people dont see on the navy commercials. and thank you to all that support us everyday. not only family and friends but complete and total strangers, like emily and lee. thank you again for your support and your hearts.
Posted By Anonymous BMSN Noelle C Root; USN, USS Tortuga : 9:31 AM ET
I am sailor also from the USS Tortuga and shipmate of both the sailors featured on your documentary. I want to say thank you for showing the world that there are others out there doing there part. I would like to help out as much as i can and offer the most i can to our cause. I would also like to thank everyone back home who took the time to watch the documentary. We are all proud to serve you. Thanks again to Emily and Lee. They probably dont remember me, but i was the one sailor with a tattoo sleeve on the left arm doodleing on scrap paper on the bridge during one underway period. Glad they decided to cut that part out!
Posted By Anonymous OS2 James B. Guthrie III, USN, USS Tortuga : 1:22 AM ET
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