For Sarah McCready, who’s currently deployed aboard a U.S. Navy vessel, being a sailor is in her blood. Being a team player is key to her survival.
“Without teamwork, my job would be useless,” she explains. “Having to work together is the only way that large tasks can be accomplished and that a maximum result can be achieved.”
McCready is a Navy fireman/damage controlman on the USS Oscar Austin, a state-of-the-art guided missile destroyer. Deployed as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, her ship is part of the USS Harry S. Truman Battle Group.
Learning how to be a team player is the most important thing she carried away from her SkillsUSA membership, she says. A masonry student at Monroe County Area Vocational Technical School in Pennsylvania, the future sailor graduated in 1999 and enlisted in January 2001. From her hometown of Saylorsburg (for real), she went to Great Lakes, Ill., to complete her Navy basic training. She stayed on for Damage Control School, a part of the Illinois Fighting School.
For her current mission, McCready shipped out for the Mediterranean from Norfolk, Va., last December. “My definition of shipping out is leaving for more than a month,” she says. “Sometimes it is a feeling of happiness that all of your hard work has paid off to get the ship under way. Sometimes it feels like you are leaving behind family and friends for a long period of time. But, we know that we soon will be home, safely in their arms.”
Naturally, her days are regimented. She gets up at about 4:30 a.m. Her duties as a Navy fireman require skills in electronics and communications, aeronautics, health care and, of course, firefighting.
“While awake and not in your rack [bed], you are said to be on deck,” she explains. “Most of the time, I find myself in the engine rooms below deck. Your job determines whether or not you are above deck.” The ship is like a moving city. “We have all kinds of people who do different things. The only difference is that we have set schedules and rules to live by day to day. We can be flexible with our time sometimes; other times we have to adhere strictly to a plan.”
Living at sea, McCready can feel the ship moving — at 511 feet, it’s relatively small — but she’s neither been seasick nor claustrophobic. Depending where you go on board, she says, the smells range from cleaning solution to food from the galley. She has no difficulty sleeping unless the seas are rough and her shipmates are ill.
Navy boot camp prepares sailors for these voyages, she explains, by breaking recruits of bad habits and showing them how to live with just the basics. And although men greatly outnumber women on the ship, it’s not an issue.
“Men and women have different berthings [sleeping quarters] and different heads [shower and bathroom areas]. If you work hard, no one will bother you, and if you train like you work, you will be fine,” McCready adds. “I am one of few women on board, and everyone is treated equally. It is really rather fair.”
At the time of this interview, the United States had not yet taken military action against Iraq. Asked about sailing into the Mediterranean and Middle East during these tense times, she grows philosophical.
“Some people can dream and wonder about going to these places … the beauty of nature and the pure sense of being with nature and God out here,” she says. “We should put aside all that is going on in the world today, and take the time to appreciate those things dearly. We have seen many things out here, and they have awoken me to the vitality of life.”
McCready feels strongly about serving in the military. “I am proud to be an American, and we stand for freedom. Knowing that we are making a difference makes it all worthwhile,” she adds. But is she ever, well, scared? “Sure. Who wouldn’t be?” the sailor replies. “But I know that I am doing this for the youth of America. What keeps me going is the pride in knowing that I am doing the right thing.”
These are times when McCready is grateful for her SkillsUSA experience. “I think about how I was taught that it may be hard at times to have pride and dignity in what you do. But to believe that makes it possible to push past the limits and find your true potential, to see the good in all people no matter who they are, and to understand that you someday may find yourself asking them for help.”