Friday, June 15, 2007

Retired Couple Set Sail Aboard Navy Ship

For one week Rosie and Lloyd Eckler, a married couple from Mountain Ranch, lived just like sailors aboard aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN76). Rosie, who slept in the female quarters, said her bunk was an almost "claustrophobic" two inches from the ceiling. However, sleeping in tight quarters and hearing ocean waves crash against the ship's hull at night didn't bother her one bit. "You don't feel the rock and roll," Lloyd said of the ship, agreeing with his wife. Their trip from Pearl Harbor to San Diego was worth every second, he said. The couple, who have lived in Mountain Ranch for 10 years, jumped at the chance to spend a week aboard the ship with their grandson, Anthony Katen, 20, a Navy electrician's mate in the nuclear field who joined the Navy two and a half years ago. He is stationed in San Diego aboard USS Ronald Reagan. In mid-April, Rosie and Lloyd flew to Hawaii. They spent a week aboard the aircraft carrier during the ship's special civilian week - called the "Tiger Cruise" - when family and friends - with approval and background checks - can sail with their family members in the Navy. The Ecklers set sail on the ship from Pearl Harbor April 13 and arrived in San Diego April 20.
Rosie and Lloyd Eckler proudly display a photo of their grandson Anthony Katen.
"People wouldn't believe us," Rosie said of how people first reacted to the idea of their Navy tour. "That's a city afloat," Llloyd said, noting that the ship holds 6,000 people. During the time of their one-week tour, about 500 sailors were on leave, which allowed for about 500 civilian visitors. "It's a chance of a lifetime to be able to take the cruise," Lloyd said. During the day, while their grandson was working, Rosie and Lloyd participated in the ship's organized tours and activities. Each day, the civilians onboard could opt to take part in Navy-led information tours aboard ship, participate in activities and games, attend church services or just quietly enjoy the ride. In the evenings, sailors and civilians could attend karaoke shows in one of the hangar bays, watch movies in one of the classrooms, or play bingo. One night there was even a crew talent show. Navy personnel were very polite, Rosie said, adding that she tried to stay out of their way when they were working. It wasn't always easy. The ship was like a miniature city, Lloyd said, noting that several 20-inch wide stairwells were dispersed throughout. "I was really amazed at the education level of our airmen and sailors," said Lloyd, who served in the Air Force from 1952 to 1956.
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN76)
When asked how she felt about their grandson being in the Navy, Rosie said, "His being there doesn't bother me. They're not there in Baghdad." The Ecklers do, however, have a granddaughter serving in the Middle East. Katen's sister, Monica Heyward, 22, is in the Army, stationed in Iraq. How does Rosie feel about that? "Not so good," she said, noting that Heyward has a 2-year-old daughter, Marissa, in the states. Marissa is currently living with Heyward's mother. "I just think it's important to everybody, whether we believe in the way or not, to support them," Rosie said. "They all volunteer." Lloyd said he is proud of all his grandchildren, not only those serving in uniform. The Ecklers have eight grandchildren total, and are close to all of them. Many spent their childhoods visiting the Ecklers. Lloyd fondly remembers teaching many of them how to operate tools and "how to understand mechanics." It helped instill valuable skills in them, he said. He and Rosie spent six years building their "dream house" in Mountain Ranch, where they bought property in 1981. Family and friends would help them build the house on the weekends. "We built this house ourselves," he said, calling it a "family project." "I painted every board in this house," Rosie said. Lloyd recalled Katen's many visits when he would help build the house. When asked how he felt about his grandson serving the country, Lloyd said he is proud of him. He remembered one night, "My grandson called his mom (late in the evening, from the ship) and asked 'Is it too late to call grandpa?'" "She asked, 'Why do want to call grandpa?' He said, '(Because) he's the only one who understands me."

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