NORFOLK, AUG. 14 -- Scott Bearum was sweaty and dog tired this afternoon as he and a Navy buddy dragged themselves into Nick's bar and grill for an after-work beer.
As crew members aboard the USS Shreveport, Bearum and his friend have been working at a hectic pace since the amphibious transport dock ship entered the port here last Thursday, scrambling to reload, turn around and head back out.
Like many other ships here at the Virginia town known as the capital of the U.S. Navy, the Shreveport will get no rest before she is summoned to defend U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.
These days, Bearum said he is running on sheer adrenaline.
"You get juiced up for it," said the burly young man who sported a rose tattoo of his nickname, "Bear," on his arm. "I'm actually looking forward to it. After all the training and everything, I'd like to put it to the limit."
Is he worried about the Iraqis? Not a bit.
All they have are some "old, outdated, dusty weapons," he said. "They don't have a chance in hell."
An armada is assembling in Norfolk to steam across the Atlantic this month. Two amphibious transports, the USS Trenton and USS Portland, left today, bound for North Carolina where they will pick up Marines and then head for the Middle East. Although military officials would not discuss future ship movements, the departures are expected to represent the beginning of a 13-ship convoy from here that will ferry some 15,000 Marines to the Middle East.
The carrier USS John F. Kennedy and the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau are being loaded and prepared for departure, with the Kennedy leaving as early as Wednesday. And the USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship manned by medical crews from Bethesda naval hospital, left this evening.
The workers, sailors and facilities here at the world's largest naval base are putting in countless extra hours in an effort to prepare. Having just outfitted the USS Wisconsin battleship group that departed last week, workers are loading thousands of pounds of food, parts and other supplies on the ships using towering cranes, and have even recruited helicopters to lower crates onto the ships.
"It's a herculean effort to get supplies on ships and to get supplies over there," said Capt. Kendell Pease, chief public affairs officer for the Atlantic Fleet. "This is what the Navy's all about: flexibility and mobility."
To understand the magnitude of the task, consider just the Kennedy. Commissioned in 1968, the aircraft carrier is the length of 3 1/2 football fields, carrying up to 5,500 personnel and 85 to 90 jet aircraft.
By itself, with months of warning for routine deployment, the Kennedy would occupy suppliers for weeks, but officials want to turn her around in a matter of days.
"The people at the supply center are going absolutely bonkers," said Lt. Gordon Hume, a Navy spokesman.
At Pier 7, sailors and workers flowed on and off the Kennedy and the Nassau like a hive of bees making honey. A laundry truck passed through the gate, then another truck with chairs, then another with boxes and boxes of fresh meat. Sailors brought wives and small children to visit them on board one last time.
In the background, the Trenton passed slowly through the harbor on her way to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Later in the day, the Portland eased out of dock at Little Creek Amphibious Base with the help of a tugboat, as four dozen wives, children, friends and parents bade her farewell from the shore.
A 14,000-ton, 553-foot gray behemoth known to sailors as the "floating pickup truck" because its stern flips down to allow amphibious landing craft in and out, the Portland lists a crew of 358 and a capacity of 330 troops.
The exhausted and bedraggled crew clearly didn't expect much company at the sendoff. Dressed in scruffy blue dungarees instead of Navy whites, the sailors leaned on the rails and good-naturedly waved at well-wishers.
"Drop me a ladder and I'll come with you!" one Navy man on shore yelled. "Hey, hey, we're going to blow them off this planet!" another shouted at his departing buddies as the ship chugged slowly away to the martial strains of "Victory at Sea."
Three men who were on that ship this morning sat and watched from the pier this afternoon, their emotions clearly churning. Because a nearby officer had tried to tell reporters not to interview the men -- Navy public relations officers spent much time trying to keep journalists away from military personnel and families -- the three would give only their first names.
Jason, Steven and Scott had spent years on the Portland, but by coincidence their Navy careers ended today, and they were not shipping out.
"All three of us talked about staying in to go with them," explained Steven, a now-former sailor, who was having trouble fighting back tears. "It's great to get off, but at the same time you want to go with them."
The Portland blew a foghorn farewell.
"Okay," Scott said resignedly. "Let's go get drunk."
Displacement: 80,000 tons.
Length: 1,052 feet.
Flight Deck Width: 252 feet..
Speed: Exceeds 30 knots (actual speed classified).
Ship's Complement: typically 3,117 (155 officers).
Commanded by Capt. Herbert A. Browne.
Flagship for Carrier Group Two, commanded by Rear Adm. Riley Mixson.
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding.
Commissioned: Sept. 7, 1968.
Power Plant: Eight boilers, four geared steam turbines, four shafts, 280,000 shaft horsepower.
Carrier Air Wing Three (Commanded by Capt. A.H. White Jr.).
Air Wing: typically 2,480 (320 officers).
Aircraft: approximately 90.
VA-75: A-6E Intruders out of Oceana, Va.
VA-72 and VA-46: A-7E Corsair-2s out of Jacksonville, Fla.
VAQ-130: EA-6B Prowlers, electronic warfare, out of Whidbey Island, Wash.
VF-14 and VF-32: F-14A Tomcats out of Oceana.
VAW: E2 Hawkeyes, early warning and radar detection, out of Norfolk.
HS-7: SH-3H Sea King helicopters for search and rescue, antisubmarine warfare, out of Jacksonville.
VS-22: S-3A Vikings, antisubmarine warfare, out of Jacksonville.
Missiles and Armaments:
Three surface-to-air NATO Sea Sparrows.
Three 20mm Vulcan Phalanx, 6-barreled close-in weapons systems (Fires 3,000 rounds a minute).
One 40mm saluting gun.
SOURCE: Jane's Fighting Ships 1989-90 and U.S. Navy.