When Rifles Come Out

It was a day much like any other. I was standing an armed watch for Inport Security Force (ISF) while serving on the USS Eisenhower in 2005. Most people do a period of time “cranking” in the kitchen; however, my Boatswain Mate 1st class saw that I wanted to be a Gunner’s Mate, and decided to give me a duty where I was around guns and frequently dealt with the Gunner’s Mates. I would work 12 hour shifts — 3 days on, 2 days off, 2 days on, 3 days off — standing my watch in rotating 4 hours shifts on the 12 hour stretch. To prepare for my watch, I would go to the armory and check out an M-16 — pictured above — with about 90 rounds, and make my way up to the flight deck, where I either overlooked the pier, or the harbor.

It was a clear October day, and I was overlooking the water. It was tough to know what to do up there for four hours besides watch and suspect everyone and every vehicle of a potential terror attack. Part of me thought it could happen, mostly because I had been conditioned to believe so, but part of me thought, “There is no way anyone would attack us here in Norfolk.” Either way, I stayed diligent, even though I was secluded from everyone and everything. I would go through various scenarios in my head, pray, sing, and pace back and forth across the flight deck…just waiting for the terrorists to show themselves.

Off in the distance, I see a boat driving erratically. I go with my gut and call it in. “Johnson, Wagen. I have a fast moving pleasure craft driving erratically about 200 yards in front of the safety barrier. Please advise.” After a moment or two of silence, “Wagen, Johnson. Keep your eye on them. If they come toward the ship and cross the barrier, you have permission to engage. Over.”

“Roger that.”

As soon as our conversation was over, the boat turned toward the ship, hit full throttle, and didn’t back down. It closed those 200 yards fast. I pulled my rifle up, put one in the chamber, took it off safety, and prepared to engage. While this was happening, another ISF member on the pier came out of his air conditioned booth and also raised his rifle. So, we have two soldiers with rifles pointed at this boat that is headed full throttle for our ship. I can see it closing 100 yards, 50 yards, 25 yards…I took a deep breath, put my finger on the trigger, and flipped to full auto, ready to unload on this craft… then the boat suddenly kills the engine and pulls off to its left, about 5-10 yards shy of the barrier. I still waited, looking down the sights, waiting for someone to come out and start shooting…or something.

Then I heard sirens off to the left. It was the Coast Guard going out to meet this craft…50 cal locked and loaded. They did a tactical board, and arrested the people. I was relieved from my watch, and one person even clapped for me. It was the most action we had seen since I started working for ISF, and it would be the most action that I would see while docked at Norfolk, Virginia.  I sometimes wonder what happened to the people on board, and I wonder what they were thinking. Maybe we did stop a terrorist attack that day. Maybe it was a few drunk college kids. I never heard the story, and I don’t think I ever will. My only regret, is that I didn’t have a bigger gun, because two guys with M-16s would have had a hell of a time shutting them down.

Wagen, over and out.

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