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U.S. Navy Has Polyglot Crew

January 4, 2002

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ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (AP) _ Listen carefully on this floating U.S. air base in the Arabian Gulf and you might hear Beini Bao teaching Chinese to a crew mate.

Or Vyacheslav Moskalets in yet another heated discussion on Eastern European politics.

Or Highlander Michael Noble blowing a set of Scottish bagpipes.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt’s 5,000-strong crew reflects the American melting pot, with many of its sailors bringing cultures, accents, stories and traditions from around the globe.

``The thing is that while I am still Scottish, I also regard myself as American,″ said Noble, 22. He hails from Newtonmoore, in the Scottish Highlands, but has U.S. citizenship because his mother is American.

Noble contacted the U.S. Embassy in London when he was 18, said he was an American living abroad and wanted to join the Navy. His ability with bagpipes and thick Scottish accent draw plenty of attention.

``Until joining the Navy, the only people I knew were from the Highlands and going to Edinburgh was a big trip, now I am in the Navy going from Norfolk to the Arabian Gulf,″ said Noble, a master-at-arms or onboard police officer.

Ship spokesman Lt. John Oliveira said the Roosevelt’s crew ``is a slice of America ... with sailors from the Ukraine, China, India, Central and South America; really there isn’t a continent that we don’t have a sailor from.″

``But when you go down to the ship’s mess decks, you don’t see people sitting by racial groups, they sit by the colored work shirts they wear,″ he said.

Crew members speak Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Cantonese, Mandarin and French. The ship’s captain, Rich O’Hanlon of New York, is first-generation Irish-American.

The carrier’s London-born nurse, Lt. Tony Marcantel, 39, considers himself ``absolutely American,″ even though he grew up in England and attended military college there.

His British mother and American G.I. father met in Germany and later moved to London.

``The military’s multicultural attitude, especially onboard the ship, works well with the war on terrorism because it proves that this is not a war on any one people or religion as we have people onboard from so many different backgrounds,″ said Marcantel, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife and three children.

The Roosevelt, which set sail Sept. 19 for the Arabian Gulf as part of the American armada in the war against terrorism, keeps no statistics on ethnicity despite the large numbers of non-native Americans on board.

English was a foreign language for Alba Aponte, 20, until she and her family moved to Union City, N.J., from Lima, Peru in 1999 to escape that country’s unstable economic conditions.

Aponte was at New Jersey’s Newark Airport Sept. 11 waiting to fly back to her Florida naval base when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

``I could see the smoke and I knew it was terrorism,″ she said

Aponte said terror attacks were common in Peru while she was growing up. ``I knew how people in New York were feeling, so I was glad I was in the Navy so I could help defend America.″

Petty Officer 2nd Class Moskalets, 28, moved to Cleveland, Ohio, with his parents and eight brothers and sisters from Kiev, Ukraine, in 1991.

``America helped us to get a new start in life and this influenced me in joining the Navy in 1998,″ said Moskalets. ``I felt it was my duty to serve because I was given a new home and chance for education.″

Moskalets said he’s still coming to grips with American culture, but feels his views benefit crew mates.

``My views on news events and politics, even Russian, generate new discussions and arguments, which is good,″ he said.

Firefighter Apprentice Jennifer Huynh-Rudd, 19, from Alhambra, Calif., said she is known as an ``ABC: American-born Chinese.″

``There are hardly any Asians onboard, that is the big difference to home and sometimes I feel like I am left out because I hardly ever see Asians,″ she said.

Close friend, Airman Bao, 23, from Alta Loma, Calif., was born in Shanghai, China, and moved to the United States when she was 19.

``China is my motherland but America is my fatherland and my job is to serve the country. I did not expect the war to happen ... but I decided to become an American citizen, so it was my duty to protect the country,″ said Bao.

Lt. Cmdr. Glenn Estrada, 39, of Virginia Beach, Va., has had a long association with the service. His father, from the Philippines, joined the Navy as a ship steward more than 40 years ago and later moved with his wife to the United States.

``I am very much Americanized as I was born there but I have brought my heritage onto the ship,″ said Estrada. He is a ``shooter″ or senior flight deck officer charged with launching fighter planes from the carrier.

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