Home for the Holidays

Navy Seaman Jennifer Sommerdyke at the helm of the destroyer USS Fife, which recently returned from duty in the Persian Gulf.

December 7, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

At any given moment, Navy ships are participating in operations to promote peace and stability throughout the world, as directed by the President. Sometimes these operations put sailors in harm's way. Seeley Lake's Jennifer L. Sommerdyke and her fellow crew members recently returned from a six month deployment to the Arabian Gulf where they enforced United Nations sanctions in the Middle East region, in place since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

Navy Seaman Sommerdyke, the 23 year old daughter of Henry and Sandra Sommerdyke of Seeley Lake, is assigned to the destroyer USS Fife (DD 991), which is homeported in Everett, Wash. As a quartermaster, Sommerdyke assists in the navigation of the ship, and maintains navigational charts.

Fife is one of the world's most modern and technologically advanced warships. A Spruance-class destroyer armed with sophisticated weapons and sensors, Fife represents a lethal threat to any enemy on the sea, under the sea, in the air, or on land. The highly automated weapons and engineering systems aboard Fife allow the ship to be manned by a relatively small crew of 25 officers, 25 chief petty officers, and 300 junior enlisted personnel.

This 563 foot long destroyer is well equipped to accomplish any task. Fife is armed with the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System, an MK 41 Missile Vertical Launching System, Tomahawk land attack missiles, two Harpoon Missile quad-canister launchers, two triple-barrel torpedo tubes, two 20mm Close-In Weapons Systems (CIWS), two five-inch guns, and four 50-caliber machine guns. Additionally, Fife can support an SH-60B Seahawk anti-submarine helicopter.

During this latest deployment, Fife earned the Pacific Surface Force "Self-sufficient Ship of the Quarter" award. With limited resources during the long trip across the Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as during operations in the Arabian Gulf, Fife relied on the technical expertise and ingenuity of her crew to continue prolonged operations at sea.

Sommerdyke understands why it is important to deploy overseas and to improve relations with our foreign allies.

"It is important to deploy naval units overseas because we have to uphold the U.N. sanctions. As long as other countries see the U.S. over there, they may not cause trouble. I guess in a way we help uphold peace so a war hopefully won't start," said Sommerdyke, a 1995 graduate of Seeley-Swan High School.

U.S. Navy ships regularly participate in training exercises with nations around the world to improve mutual understanding and to work more efficiently with foreign navies. Fife was recently involved with one of these exercises in the Arabian Gulf. Fife's helicopter crash and rescue team performed fire fighting and refueling drills to help train the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) navy. Crew members from the UAE frigate Abu Dhabi spent the day on Fife observing military equipment, fueling demonstrations and fire fighting drills, as well as participating in lectures and discussions. The exercise familiarized participants with a range of equipment and hardware available in the inventories of both navies.

Other crew members took part in a similar exchange in Aqaba, Jordan, where they lived and worked for several days on a patrol boat of the Jordanian navy. Fife also visited Townsville, Australia where they helped locals celebrate Anzac Day, which honors their fallen soldiers.

"The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I help keep the ship safe from running aground, and keep the ship on course. I really enjoy the people I work with, including the officers," said Sommerdyke, a two year Navy veteran.

The deployment was a success due to hard work and outstanding coordination, but the crew of Fife did manage to take time out from their hard work to enjoy several port visits.

"The most interesting part of deployment was being able to see other countries and experience other cultures. These are some of the reasons I joined the Navy. Also interesting was meeting new people from other countries, and from other ships," Sommerdyke said.

The intense labor and sacrifices don't end after this deployment. Sommerdyke and her fellow sailors are already hard at work with preparations for their next deployment to protect America's interests.

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