Military feature: Portales woman served on Navy destroyer

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

A Portales woman who works at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post served aboard a ship bombing Baghdad and traveled around the world during her time in the U.S. Navy.

Christine Scharle, a Socorro native, was in the Navy from 2000-2004, and said it was a good experience.

She joined because she played the flute and wanted to continue the activity in the Navy. However, she ended up working with sonar.

During her four-hour watch shifts aboard the destroyer USS O’Kane, Scharle monitored the waters for objects under the surface. At other times, she did such jobs as painting, repairing equipment, cleaning and performing fire-fighting drills.

“In the Navy, you kind of have to do everything,” Scharle said.

In early September 2001, the O’Kane, left Thailand for the Persian Gulf during Scharle’s first of two deployments. On Sept. 11, the ship sped up, but because of their isolation, the crew didn’t learn until later that the U.S. had been attacked by terrorists.

The ship was in the first battle group to arrive in the Persian Gulf after the terrorist attacks.

In Scharle’s second deployment, the O’Kane went to the Persian Gulf again and fired missiles into Baghdad.

“It was hot and humid, and there were flies everywhere,” she said.

The crew had to watch for the many small wooden boats in the water around them. Scharle said radar didn’t pick them up, but that was the type of boat that had bombed the USS Cole.

“It’s kind of scary,” she said. “You never know if you’re not going to wake up in the morning or if you’re going to have to wake up and have to do damage control after being bombed.”

After Sept. 11, 2001, e-mail, mail and air traffic were cut off, and the crew had no way to contact family until the ship came into port.

Scharle said she liked the friends she made, serving with like-minded people, the food and seeing different countries.

“I also liked being stranded on a ship in the middle of the water for six months,” she said.

The experience of being on the ship with strangers and sometimes no contact with her family was humbling and hard, but her friends made it better, Scharle said.

Although some women complained of discrimination, Scharle said she never experienced any.

When the ship wasn’t deployed, the majority of the time, the crew did exercises to qualify for deployment and the O’Kane underwent maintenance.

“That four years just kind of whizzed by and suddenly it was over and I was getting out,” Scharle said.