Sat, April 04

Valley sailor home from Iraqi Freedom

Staff photo by Philip Wright

JAMES Endicott and his father, Steve, embrace between two yellow ribbons tied to the front of the Endicott's home between Cottonwood and Cornville. Petty Officer 2nd class Endicott recently returned from a 10-month deployment aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier assigned to duty in the Persian Gulf near Iraq.

His primary job is aircrew survival equipmentman. His duties involve packing parachutes and handling other life-saving gear and supplies for the pilots who fly on and off the carrier. "We provide survival equipment for 24 hours after they hit the ground," Endicott said.

That equipment includes floatation devices, special high-energy biscuits, water and other gear designed to keep pilots alive long enough to be rescued.

But Endicott's responsibility for the safety of his 5,500 shipmates doesn't stop with survival gear for pilots. Endicott also is a rescue swimmer and one of only two sailors on the carrier assigned to the Plane Guard team. That team of two is on round-the-clock call to go into the water to rescue pilots who have to ditch or sailors who've gone overboard.

His third job on the carrier is being part of the Flying Squad, a team that responds to fires on board. Because fire is one of the greatest dangers to any vessel at sea, it is a job for which fire-team members must stay in a high degree of readiness. "We pretty much had a drill every morning," Endicott said.

The 26-year-old son of Verde Valley residents Steve and Bonnie Endicott, James has just returned home following a 10-month deployment that included duty in the Persian Gulf, about 80 miles off the coast of Iraq. "It was the longest deployment since World War II, and also the longest deployment ever for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," Endicott said.

The 10 months comprised stops in many foreign ports, such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, Hawaii, and Saudi Arabia.

During the deployment, the sailors aboard the Abraham Lincoln supported 16,500 sorties, 150 became fathers and 352 re-enlisted. The crew consumed more than 42,000 gallons of milk, almost 29,000 pounds of hot dogs and nearly a million and a half cans of soda. The fire crew fought 20 electrical fires, three Class A fires and one Class B. Barbers on board gave 35,000 haircuts, and the dentists pulled 2,932 teeth and put fillings in 2,315 more.

All the while, the pilots and sailors aboard the Abraham Lincoln carried out their wartime duties without losing any aircraft or a single pilot or sailor. Endicott's ship was one of the busiest. "Our ship id probably 80 percent of the work," Endicott said, referring to the number of missions flown over Iraq.

When President George W. Bush landed on an aircraft carrier recently on national television, it was the USS Abraham Lincoln. And Endicott was one of the sailors selected to be near the president during his address to the nation. "I didn't get to shake his hand, but I was standing right below his podium, about three people back," Endicott said.

He said the President Bush took a lot of time to shake hands with the sailors aboard the carrier. "He must have shaken more than a thousand hands," Endicott said.

For Endicott, being home from Iraqi waters means seeing his family, relaxing and enjoying good food. "The first thing I did was go fly fishing below the dam at Lake Powell," he said.

For his family, Endicott's safe return is a huge relief. "It was a constant concern," Steve said. "Being parents, we were relieved that he wasn't on the ground in Iraq. We're grateful to have him home."

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