Around the World with the U.S. Navy coverNaval Institute Press, 1999. 208 pp., 15 photos, 6 x 9 inches, Hardcover. $25.95 list, ISBN 1-55750-665-5.

As a reporter for Navy Times, I flew more than 65,000 miles and sailed 3,600 more to visit sailors at work. I found that America’s fleet, built to fight the Soviet Navy on the high seas, had been caught flatfooted by the sudden collapse of the Cold War threat. A decade after the Berlin Wall fell, few ships in the U.S. Navy were doing the missions they were designed to do. Ships and sailors were wrenching themselves into shape for the new battlefields closer to shore.

I wrote Around The World With The U.S. Navy to offer an on-the-scene look at the sea service at the end of the 20th century: its ships, aircraft, weapons, bases, and people at work from Iceland to Iraq, from Japan to Chile.

“Excellent…a thoroughly readable and enjoyable book.” — Norman Polmar, naval analyst and author

“Peniston has painted a remarkably detailed, honest portrait of life in today’s Navy.” — Seapower

“An excellent introduction to the Navy’s hardware and various missions around the globe, written by a reporter who interviewed everyone from admirals to deck washers.” — Marine affairs professor Marc J. Hershman, University of Washington

“A keen depiction of the Navy today.” — Florida Times-Union

Chapters

The Frigates | The Carriers | The Orions | The Cruisers | The Hornets
The Gators | The Tomcats | Big Ship, Little Boats | The Submarines
The VR Navy | The Minesweepers | The Bases | The People

1: The Frigates

The fleet’s fading workhorses, Perry-class frigates run themselves ragged all over the globe, whether it’s Halyburton hunting submarines in the Baltic Sea, Kauffman working with ex-Warsaw Pact navies off Romania, Thach enforcing embargoes in the Persian Gulf, or Doyle slowly circling South America.

2: The Carriers

America’s aircraft carriers remain the military’s on-the-scene big sticks, even as manning shortages make work on the giant flight decks even tougher. Take 1998. As tensions grew in Kosovo, Dwight D. Eisenhower raced across the Mediterranean to take up station off rump Yugoslavia. One month later, Indy ended a distinguished career as America’s most combat-decorated ship. And in the Persian Gulf’s August heat, Abraham Lincoln’s crew found the summer heat more dangerous than Iraqi warplanes.

3: The Orions

The first aircraft whose electronic gear cost more than its airframe, the venerable P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft is doing much more these days than hunting and killing submarines above the Arctic Circle. Equipped with a new suite of optical zoom lenses and synthetic aperture radars, patrol squadrons — such as VP-16 in Iceland or VP-26 over Bosnia and Romania — keep track of targets on land and sea.

4: The Cruisers

The Navy’s air defense specialists, the guided missile cruisers are entering a new ascendancy as Tomahawk shooters. Stories from Vella Gulf in the Baltic Sea, Shiloh in the Persian Gulf, and Princeton off San Diego.

5: The Hornets

Aboard the carrier Eisenhower, the maintainers of the fleet’s newest strike fighters sweat, endure long chow lines, and Spartan racks to be part of the elite VFA-83 Rampagers. Their pilots talk about what keeps them in the Navy, and what might drive them out.

6: The Gators

Amphibious assault ships like Wasp and Duluth have always lived a double life, as conveyors of Marine Expeditionary Units, but now they carry everything from surveillance drones to SEAL teams. Stories from Wasp in the Adriatic, Duluth in San Diego, and Trenton in the Black Sea.

7: The Tomcats

In the Virginia hangars and ready rooms of VF-101 — Tomcat Central — the Navy’s fighter jocks talk almost religiously about their beloved F-14 and their prayers to save the aging platform from its doom.

8: Big Ship, Little Boats

The Navy’s hidden nooks: the Special Boat Squadrons that ferry SEALs and do much more; the submarine tender Simon Lake, a tinker for the Nuclear Age; and Hawaii’s torpedo recovery boats, which might be the best duty in paradise.

9: The Submarines

Whither the shrinking Silent Service? Cut in half in five years, the sub fleet is learning to operate in the shallows instead of the deep ocean. Aboard the attack sub Houston off San Diego.

10: The VR Navy

If the reserve squadrons that fly the Navy’s cargo are all but invisible, they are also indispensible. But if they don’t get new planes to replace their 30-year-old, rapidly aging C-9Bs, getting off the ground may become nearly impossible. Stories from VR-57 in Italy and the Persian Gulf and VR-58 in Hawaii.

11: The Minesweepers

Mines have inflicted most of the Navy’s recent combat damage, yet the minesweeping fleet is strapped for cash. To stretch they limited resources, the Navy’s Persian Gulf minehunters swap out crews instead of sailing from the U.S. — a rotation system that may be a model for future warships.

12: The Bases

The number of bases is going down, but many of the biggest are better than ever. Stories from Singapore, Japan, Iceland, Sicily, and Egypt.

13: The Sailors

The Navy’s overworked brains, hands, hearts and souls.