Sailors’ Warning: It’s the Navy, Not the ‘Love Boat’
In the race-car vernacular favored by the captain, the infraction is called “swapping paint.” Inappropriate contact between men and women of the 5,500-member mixed crew is rare because of the severe penalties imposed on violators of the Navy’s ban on fraternization and intimacy aboard its vessels.
But the laws of the heart sometimes overwhelm the instinct for self-preservation. During each deployment aboard this nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, as with dozens of other naval ships with female crew members, there are regular instances of pregnancy and prohibited relationships among shipmates.
Since the Lincoln pulled out of its home port in Everett, Wash., on July 20, about 20 crew members have been sent home pregnant, seven in the first few weeks, said Cmdr. Gerry Goyins, the ship’s senior medical officer.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it hasn’t been a bigger problem,” said Goyins, observing that the vast majority of the ship’s crew and air wing are college-age and single. After the initial spate of pregnancies, a concerted effort was made among senior enlisted women to encourage subordinates to keep in mind their commitments to the Navy.
“It’s not that you can’t date. You just can’t have any physical contact,” said Chief Richard Kleiner, a religious programs specialist in the Chaplain’s Department.
Capt. Kendall Card has informed the “khakis” to keep an eye on their people, says Kleiner, referring to the chiefs and officers who supervise enlisted personnel.
“If we see people too close or in a dark area, we tell them not to get themselves in trouble, to take it to the mess decks if they want to have a conversation,” he said.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice defines fraternization as relationships between seniors and subordinates and any conduct between service personnel “to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces.” Violation of the rules is punishable by dishonorable discharge, fines and up to two years in federal prison.
Earlier this year, the Navy dismissed the commander of the Kitty Hawk as the carrier made its way to the Persian Gulf because he had engaged in “an improper relationship with a female naval officer.”
Restricting trysts to shore time is the best policy for avoiding legal or career ramifications, says the ship’s command judge advocate, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Holley.
“As long as it doesn’t violate the fraternization policy and they maintain a professional environment on board, it’s OK,” Holley said of relationships between crew members. “A lot of people have met and gotten married in the Navy. It’s where they work and their social environment. That’s not discouraged.”
The ship’s civilian-run office in charge of morale and recreation organizes board game tournaments, exercise classes, sports teams and hobby clubs that bring men and women into friendly contact. Too much togetherness, though, draws unfavorable attention. Men and women are prohibited from hanging out in one another’s berths and are forbidden from being alone together behind locked office doors. Dancing at festive events is “prohibited-ish,” said Ryan Hicks, a disc jockey for the ship’s station, KRUZ.
For those who blatantly violate the rules, the consequences can be devastating.
“The numbers are pretty serious for those caught and sent to Captain’s Mast,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Butler of the shipboard police force, referring to the summary court held every week or two. “It’s going to cost you a pay grade and $1,000, and that’s enough to make most people think about whether it’s worth it.”
Couples can gain illicit access to an empty distinguished visitors’ stateroom for $50, paid to the supply clerks who manage the keys and know which quarters are empty. The Mary Todd Suite, a four-berth compartment meant for VIPs, is the ship’s main love nest. One personnel officer, upon learning that female media representatives were berthed there, said: “That’s good news. That ought to prevent my mess cooks from having sex in there.”
Women have been in the Navy for decades and began service on some vessels a quarter-century ago. But they have been allowed to serve on battle-ready carriers only since 1996. The Lincoln crew is about 11% female, about average for most of the 12 aircraft carriers in service.
Unsolicited advances from the male majority are the routine, says Petty Officer 3rd Class Rebecca Rutledge, a 22-year-old machinist’s mate engaged to a sailor on shore duty.
“In all truthfulness, it depends how long we’ve been at sea,” she said of her crew mates’ solicitations. “I just tell them to go away.”
Lt. Rose Rice, the ship’s psychologist, said that incidents of inappropriate contact brought to her attention are mostly the predictable excesses of young sailors far and long away from home.
“Love doesn’t usually make rhyme or reason. Nor can you prevent it,” Rice said of the impetus for love-struck couples to flout the rules despite threatened consequences.
Getting pregnant even on shore is “not a good situation,” because the woman will be immediately sent home, even though conceptions resulting from contact off-ship carry no legal consequences. “But if the conception takes place between port visits? Yes, they can get in trouble,” Rice said.
Goyins, the chief physician, attributes the relative success of integrating women into naval warships to the gender-neutralizing work, dress and sense of shared mission.
“Everyone’s in the same clothes, doing the same jobs and getting greasy and grimy,” Goyins said. “It tends to deglamorize the situation, so they see each other as crew mates instead of as men and women.”