Peoria Journal Star

April 1, 2003

Local stars aboard USS Constellation
Canton native an 'electric' expert, East Peorian is hardware honcho on colossal carrier

of Copley News Service

ABOARD THE CONSTELLATION - Daniel Collinson and Bradley Reeser grew up miles apart - Collinson in Canton and Reeser in East Peoria. Now, they live and work in the same "town" of 5,000 residents, about 8,000 miles from home and in the middle of a war.

Both men are petty officers 3rd class aboard this aircraft carrier, which is helping to wage the war against Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime from the northern Persian Gulf.

Collinson, 24, is a machinist mate who works deep in the bowels of the ship in the cavernous engineering spaces, which house the eight huge boilers and collection of massive machinery that drive this 88,000-ton warship through the water. Steam from the boilers also powers the catapults that launch the aircraft, heats water for the laundry and showers and spins the large electrical generator that Collinson baby-sits daily.

"These generators are one of a kind. There's a lot of responsibility every day," he said.

Collinson also supervises three younger sailors.

Reeser is a storekeeper, or supply specialist, who works in a warehouse-size room just below the flight deck in the stern of the ship. He helps stock, maintain and dispense more than 20,000 aircraft parts stored in seemingly endless rows of 7-foot-tall gray cabinets that fill the large room.

The parts go to the squadrons and the ship's aviation intermediate maintenance department to repair the Constellation's 70 airplanes.

"It's like a hardware store," Reeser said of his supply room. "You come in here, tell me what you want and walk out with it."

But the shoppers do have to have the proper Navy request form, of course.

The Constellation left its home port in San Diego on Nov. 2 and arrived in the Persian Gulf on Dec. 19. It has been launching its bomb-laden fighters against targets in Iraq for 14 to 16 hours every night since March 20.

Reeser and Collinson have no direct role in sending the strike aircraft on their missions. But without the parts Reeser supplies, none of the planes would fly for long. And without the electricity that Collinson's generator provides, it would be hard to do anything.

Both men agree with the war they are waging.

"I think our reasons for the war are good," Reeser said. "Once it's over, Iraq will be better off. It's good to be doing something for the country."

"I'm all for it," Collinson said. "One of the reasons I joined is to get more involved in defense of my family."

A Canton High School graduate, Collinson joined the Navy three years ago, after "bouncing from one job to another" and briefly attending community college.

He has been on the Constellation since June 2000, after completing recruit training and his first Navy school at Naval Training Center Great Lakes.

The generator Collinson monitors is one level above two of the eight huge boilers that provide the steam that powers Constellation. Even in the current mild weather in the Gulf, temperatures in the engineering spaces can hit 100.

After 50 days at sea without a break, he said, "that is one of the things everyone down there is going through. It's getting hot, getting a little edgy."

When the carrier was here during the blistering summer last year, the temperatures soared to 140.

"That was pretty bad," he said.

But, Collinson said: "I enjoy what I do. It has its days, like any job. But it keeps me busy. I feel good about what I'm doing and I'm learning something new every day."

Collinson's wife, Crystal, is back in Illinois with her parents while he finishes this deployment. Letters and phone calls help relieve the long separation, he said.

His mother, Sandie, lives in Canton. His father, Rick, in Galesburg.

Collinson also enjoyed his Navy service enough to re-enlist. After this deployment, he and his wife will be going to Gaeta, Italy, just north of Naples.

Reeser enlisted in the Navy shortly after graduating from East Peoria High School in 1999. He joined Constellation nearly three years ago after recruit training at Great Lakes and supply school at Meridian, Miss.

Although his storeroom is a long way from Collinson's boiler room, Reeser shares the concern about the heat. The air conditioning that keeps most of the ship comfortable, does not reach his workspace. A stand-up electric fan stirs the otherwise stifling air.

Reeser said he joined the Navy to get money for college, and because "I wanted to go out and see the world."

The Constellation's crew has seen little except water since arriving in the Gulf. But it made stops in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore before arriving here.

Reeser apparently likes what the Navy has provided because he recently re-enlisted.

"The Navy's been pretty good for me so far. We'll see what else happens," before deciding whether to stay for a career, he said.

Reeser is married to Karie Weller of East Peoria. They live in Chula Vista, a suburb east of San Diego.

"The at-sea times have been pretty rough. But that makes coming home that much better," he said.

His father, Jeff Reeser, lives in East Peoria.

After Constellation returns to its home port, Reeser will transfer to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, north of San Diego.