Surfer Takes on the Navy

By Alibrani, Tom | The Progressive, October 1993 | Go to article overview

Surfer Takes on the Navy


Alibrani, Tom, The Progressive


Twenty-year-old Aaron Ahearn was a surfer in Santa Cruz before he joined the Navy to become a welder. His first assignment was to sewage and scullery detail aboard the Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier with a crew of nearly 6,000.

Ahearn was ordered to help dump 200 plastic bags full of garbage into the ocean every day, along with old computers and desks, hazardous solvents, and raw sewage - all in violation of environmental laws and the Navy's own rules.

Disturbed by the damage he was doing to the sea, he spoke to the ship's chaplain about it. He then tried to photograph the dumpings, but a Navy officer threw his camera overboard. When he approached his commanding officer with a written request for a transfer of duties, he says, the officer ripped it up in his face.

A disillusioned Ahearn left the ship without leave when it docked in Alameda on February 13.

"In six months I saw enough stuff to make anybody who cares about this world throw up," says Ahearn. "I can no longer participate in an activity or an institution which is killing the environment and killing all living things. It goes against everything I believe as a surfer."

Ahearn hid out with his girlfriend in Santa Cruz for ten weeks, during which time he got counseling from Doug Rand at the Resource Center for Nonviolence, a local peace group. With Rand's support, Ahearn turned himself in to the Navy on April 27.

The Navy conducted an investigation of Ahearn's charges, overseen by an officer on the Abraham Lincoln. "The bottom line is, we do not dump hazardous materials," says Captain Ray Archer, supply officer for the Pacific fleet. Ahearn just wanted to visit his girlfriend, Archer says, and fabricated his story "to cover and cloud his desertion."

But the publicity Ahearn's case attracted prompted other Navy veterans to come forward. Former Petty Officer Third Class Jason Girard of Chicago served aboard the Abraham Lincoln from 1988 to 1992.

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