Londonderry sailor loves the feel of Navy's revolutionary ship
USS FREEDOM, At Sea – A Londonderry High School, N.H., alumni is one of 91 sailors aboard USS Freedom, making history as the Navy's first close-to-shore combat ship deployed to Southeast Asia.
Engineman 1st Class Robert Carter joined the Navy in 2002. He never imagined he would be assigned to Freedom, a technologically advanced, revolutionary class of ship.
Fast, agile and mission-focused, the vessels are designed to operate in near-shore environments and employ modular mission packages that can be configured for three purposes: surfaces warfare, mine countermeasures or anti-submarine warfare.
Freedom, homeported in San Diego, left on her maiden deployment March 1.
As one of fewer than a dozen engineers on the approximately 40-member core crew, Carter is in charge of the ship's propulsion systems, generators, damage control, firefighting efforts, potable water and air conditioning.
The engineering plant on Freedom is unique to the Navy. It is the only ship in the fleet to combine a diesel engine with a gas turbine engine to provide power to steerable and boost water jets.
It's shallow draft and maneuverability make it a formidable adversary to small fast attack boats.
"The combination of water jets and gas turbine engine makes us a giant jet ski," Carter said. "We can reach up to 40-plus knots and turn on a dime. It's great tool for fighting the war on drugs and piracy, and assisting mine-sweeping evolutions, making us a lethal littoral combat ship."
Carter, who has been stationed on minesweepers all over the world, from Sasebo, Japan to Manama, Bahrain, said, "Coming to the ship, I already had seven years experience with the equipment on board. I was, and still am, a vital entity to the engineering crew."
It was also easier for Carter to acclimate to the Freedom crew's small size. A minesweeper typically has fewer than 90 sailors.
"Small communities are, in my opinion, a lot better," Carter said. "You get to learn a lot more outside your rate, and be more proficient at your job, becoming the ultimate hybrid sailor. Also being a small-handed crew, you're doing a lot more work in a lot of different fields, so it makes the deployment go by a little bit faster."
While deployed on Freedom, Carter has been spending his time taking college courses towards a degree in marine engineering, and communicating as often as he can with his soon-to-be-wife Meggan.
"I spent my whole Navy career overseas, so I'm used to being forward deployed," he said. "But for the first time, I have a fiancée waiting for me at home, so it's tough."