Sailors new to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) wander around asking for directions from shipmates bustling by. What they do not realize is that the Sailor they got directions from may find the ship all too familiar.
Multiple Sailors currently stationed aboard TR are back on a ship filled with their memories, serving a familiar mission in a new position.
“It’s not that I’m following the TR, it’s like the TR is following me,” said Lt. Alexa Sandifer, the officer in charge of Weapons Department’s G-3 division aboard Theodore Roosevelt.
Sandifer’s first tour aboard TR was in 2001 as an Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class, which included a deployment in support of each Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During her first five years on the ship, she worked in almost every division in her department.
“I loved it,” said Sandifer. “It made me who I am today.”
Sandifer was commissioned as a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) in 2006, received orders to Korea for a year then returned to TR in 2007 – this time as the Air Gunner.
“It was a totally different experience,” said Sandifer. “I had to put a different spin on things because now I was a division officer.”
This time around, TR was the only aircraft carrier that had the billet Sandifer needed. She had developed a strong attachment to the ship, said Sandifer.
“TR is very territorial for me,” Sandifer said. “I know there are more aircraft carriers out there, but TR is definitely my baby.”
With this third tour she is finishing her time aboard TR with a homeport change to San Diego.
“To see this whole command evolve has been a wonderful experience for me,” said Sandifer.
For Senior Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Timberlain Woodruff, her return to TR marks the end to a ground breaking career.
Woodruff fought hard to get her first set of orders to TR in 1996. It was the first year the Navy allowed women aboard aircraft carriers.
“I wanted to come here,” said Woodruff. “I fought hard to get here. I was scared because I didn’t know many women who were on ships. I was the first female on the flight deck for the Weapons Department.”
Woodruff is finishing her Navy career aboard the ship and plans to retire in August. During her years in the Navy she has had the unique opportunity to watch women shatter the glass ceiling in the Navy.
“Women have come a long way,” said Woodruff. “But we still have a ways to go.”
Chief Mass Communication Specialist Adrian Melendez, on TR for a second time, has a new perspective on life aboard the ship.
Melendez served his first tour on the ship from 2001 to 2002. He was part of the Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ-137), as an Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd class, where he worked on the engines and fuel systems of EA-6B Prowlers.
“I’m a chief now,” said Melendez. “I’m doing an entirely different job that has an entirely different set of stressors. There’s no comparison at all.”
He says his first experience on the ship helps him stay grounded.
“I always use this ship as my basis for comparison,” said Melendez. “Even though being in the squadron was such a small portion of my Navy career, it holds the most memories.”
While the Sailors have changed with the experiences and the roles they played on TR, the ship at its core has not changed much over time, said Woodruff.
“Everything on this ship is basically in the same place it was during my first tour,” said Woodruff.
Woodruff likes that it stays constant. As Sailors make their way up the ladder of leadership, their duties, location and immediate responsibilities may change but their overall goal remains the same, to complete the mission.
“That’s what’s so good about the Navy. Time has changed the way that we do certain things, but we still go out to sea and do what we need to do to keep the ship running,” said Woodruff.
The Sailors have grown in their careers, holding new positions and responsibilities and yet, they share the common bond of returning home to the familiar walls of TR.
By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jenna Kaliszewski, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Public Affairs