By M. Scott Morris
MEDITERRANEAN SEA – Since February, Anthony Ryder has spent most of his days and nights surrounded by open ocean.
He’s been in the Navy some 27 years, so he’s used to it by now.
“Unless by chance we pull into some port, that’s the way it is,” he said during a phone call from the USS Bataan, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship.
Ryder, 45, has a home in Norfolk, Va., where his wife and four children live and where the Bataan is based.
He also retains ties to his hometown of Baldwyn, which he tries to visit at least twice a year.
“My parents live there, and my sister teaches in Baldwyn,” he said. “I have several aunts and uncles that live in Baldwyn and Saltillo and Tupelo and various parts around.”
Ryder’s dad was an explosive ordnance disposal specialist for the Navy during Vietnam.
“He encouraged me to pick a branch of the military, preferably the Navy or the Air Force,” Ryder said.
As a rising senior at Baldwyn High School in 1986, he signed up for the Navy, and he began his career after graduation the following year.
He left the Navy for a time and was a reservist, then was mobilized after the Sept. 11 attacks. He returned to full-time service a few years later.
Until about three years ago, he was what civilians would call a machinist.
“When I was a reservist, I worked at Precision Machine in Tupelo,” he said.
The job took on different dimensions when the gears and parts he machined went on a ship at sea where he ate and slept every day.
He has another job now, and it’s one he’s been training for since he first stepped foot on a Navy vessel.
Everyone on board is responsible for fire safety and prevention, and as damage controlman first class, it’s Ryder’s job to make sure sailors know what they’re supposed to do.
“We train every day because we get such an influx of junior sailors,” he said. “We are constantly training them.”
He has to make sure alarms and sprinklers work, as well as the CO2 fire suppressant.
“We have stuff to put out aircraft fires and fuel fires, and also grease fires on the grills,” he said. “We’re the only fire department that’s here.”
The crew also has to be ready in the event of an attack. So far, Ryder’s team members haven’t been put to a life-or-death test, but he’s not worried about how they’d perform.
“We have to be ready for any and everything that could occur. It’s about training so much that you know what you have to do. No questions asked. Everybody jumps in like one big, happy team to do what you have to do,” he said. “I know my team is good, so if something were to happen, I put my faith in them. That is how it’s been since I joined the Navy. It’s all about teamwork.”