ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON Issues like the failing U.S. economy, overhauling health care, and getting troops out of Iraq can seem a world away when cruising the western Pacfic s balmy waters.
But neither the vast ocean nor the long distance from home will keep petty officer Justin Carlisle from voting in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.
Stung by criticism that it was hard for military personnel to vote in the last presidential elections and get their ballots home in time to be counted the Navy has made a concerted effort this year to assure that every sailor who wants to can cast a ballot.
It was easy, Mr. Carlisle said, standing in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington.
It took some time for my ballot to find me. But then I just filled it out and sent it off in the ship s mail.
Lt. Commander Chuck Le Moyne, who serves as the ship s elections officer, said interest in next month s elections is high among the crew of the carrier, deployed on a Pacific tour since August.
For sailors who want to participate in the elections, a carrier is not a bad place to be.
Unlike some smaller warships, the carrier has regular mail flights, making it easier to get absentee ballots on board, and to send them off in time to make state deadlines.
The military has also taken extra steps this year to publicize the elections, broadcasting public service advertisements explaining the registration process and assigning officers like Commander Le Moyne to getting the word out.
We have made 100 percent contact with each sailor on board, said Commander Le Monye. He emphasized that, while making sure everyone knows they have the opportunity, the Navy is not trying to force people to vote.
If you want an absentee ballot, you will get one, he said. The services have taken a much more proactive role in getting the information out. But the decision to actually vote or not is an extremely personal one.
It s a decision, it seems, most personnel choose not to make.
He said about 283 sailors, of the carrier s crew of around 5,000, requested ballots, and 281 had been sent out. Other sailors may have requested and sent theirs independently, so it is impossible to know how many actually voted.
Lenny Clingensmith, of New Castle, Pa., said he voted Democrat, though he considers himself independent.
I guess I got caught up in all the hype about change, he said. I think it really is time for our country to start doing some different things with the economy, with how much money we are spending in Iraq.
But Mr. Carlisle, who is 24 and voting for the second time, said many of the issues that have excited the public back in the States aren t key for the sailors aboard the George Washington.
He s voting for John McCain, and says his main concern is pay. I think the Republicans are going to be better for the paycheck for us in the military, he said. The economy isn t such a big worry for me. I figure my job is pretty safe.
He said Senator McCain s military service is also a big factor. My personal view is that to understand what we re going through you have to have been there too, he said. Obama has never served. And I like Palin. She brings a new aspect to the game.
PO 3rd Class Kimberly Buchanan, 21, of Daytona Beach, Fla., has never voted, and said sheepishly that she isn t voting this time either. I wanted to, but I didn t do it, she said. It was my fault.