On the morning of September 11, before the terrorist attacks occurred, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson was heading towards the Arabian Sea on a routine mission. Twenty-four hours later it was poised and ready to strike at the heart of enemy.
“We train for this, flight after flight, day after day. And this is what we do. This what we train for,” said Commander Manizar, the second highest ranking officer on this floating, nuclear powered air base, which has led the air campaign against terrorist targets in Afghanistan. He says that the entire 5,000-person crew practices for rapid deployment year round. The only difference now is that the pilots are dropping real bombs.
So far, the ship’s pilots have flown over 1,000 missions and dropped more than 500,000 kilos of bombs. While no one here knows how long the air campaign will last, Commander Manizar says that morale remains high, because the crew believes its mission is clear and the justification for military action is indisputable.
He said, “The President himself has said how dedicated he is to eradicate this cancer that's terrorism. We stand ready to do his bidding, his interests, the interests of our nation and ensuring that we eradicate any vestige of terrorism and to make assure that anybody who would do us harm knows that we intend to respond very violently, very swiftly, and to understand that they just can't come into our country ‘willy-nilly’ and harm and kill our people and expect that we're not going to do anything about it.”
At this time, he says, the pilots face no real danger of encountering enemy fire, in part because early strikes have destroyed the enemy’s antiaircraft capability. Still, the pilots take nothing for granted and approach each mission in a business-like fashion.
“The other interesting thing, he said, did you think they'd be coming back and ‘high-fiving’ and, ‘Yeah! we dropped bombs,’ and they're not doing that. They are coming back, very professional de-briefs, to show their bomb hit assessments, to see if they got the target, and then they roll right back into the next planning for the next mission.”
Commander Manizar says that he and the crew are troubled by reports of civilian casualties caused by the air strikes. Collateral damage, he says that it is a regrettable part of war and something the military is trying minimize. “There's one thing to go against an actual threat, somebody who's trying to hurt you and your hurting them – and more, but when there is an innocent person who is injured or killed that's not a good thing,” he said.
But for the most part, Commander Mike Manizar says, the crew of the USS Carl Vinson does not ponder the moral ramifications of this conflict. Their job, as they see it, is to be an efficient, precise and overwhelmingly powerful instrument of destruction.