Former islander returns home aboard USS Essex for Seafair

Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review Sailors line the flight deck of USS Essex during the Parade of Ships.  - Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review
Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review Sailors line the flight deck of USS Essex during the Parade of Ships.
— image credit: Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review

Not everyone would be optimistic enough to be happy about coming from San Diego, California to Seattle, even if the weather has been great.

Then again, Justin Grant isn't everyone.

So, when the Navy ship on which he is currently stationed — the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) — pulled into the Emerald City early last week to take part in this year's annual Seafair Fleet Week and Boeing Maritime Celebration, Grant didn't think of it as another port call.

He thought of it as a homecoming.

"I love it here," exclaimed the 2009 Snohomish High School graduate on Wednesday, July 30, saying that the visit had allowed him to get together with some local family members. "I met my sister-in-law and my nephew, went out to Red Robin and walked around the pier a little bit. Then I went back to my father-in-law's house [in Lynnwood] and just relaxed."

Even here across the Sound on Bainbridge, where he lived for some time in 2010 before joining the Navy, the Aviation Machinist Mate 3rd Class Petty Officer said he had family he hoped to see again.

"I'm trying to get in touch with my uncle [Tim Carlsen] and his five kids, they live on Bainbridge Island," he laughed. "Hopefully I'll get them out here on Saturday. I'm trying to get all of my family together and give them a tour of the ship."

Grant has been in the Navy for just over three years, and has spent almost all of that time stationed onboard Essex. His job (or "rate," in Navy jargon) entails the inspection, adjustment, repair and overhaul of aircraft engines and propellers. It's an often dirty, laborious job that Grant said he enjoys.

"We work on Hilo engines, jet engines, P3s -—which are kind of like big jet-type engines," he explained. "Basically anything that can fly and has an engine, we'll work on it."

"I actually got a pretty decent ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) score and qualified for a whole bunch of rates," Grant said.

"But I wanted to leave real quick, so they gave me Undesignated Airman," he recalled. "So I came to the fleet without a job. I got thrown into a random division and I worked with them a year and a half, then I took a test to pick this rate because I love getting my hands dirty, I wanted to be a grease monkey, and if I got out earlier or retired I could go work at Boeing and come back here."

The 23-year-old sailor left behind in his ship's homeport a wife and 1-year-old son. He said that being apart from his family was the only part of being in the Navy that he disliked.

"It gets kind of redundant underway, so we have what we need to boost our morale," Grant explained.

He said that while out to sea he especially enjoys working out at the ship's gym, karaoke night in the vessel's hangar bay and watching movies with his friends. Specifically, he loves Batman movies — and everything else to do with the Caped Crusader, actually.

"I love anything Batman," Grant laughed.

He boasted he has a collection of Batman memorabilia worth several thousand dollars in storage in California and that he, unlike some other fans, has high hopes for the upcoming performance by Ben Affleck.

Grant said that his favorite Navy movie was "Antwone Fisher," because it was "very realistic," but that he also liked "Battleship," although it was "not as realistic."

The young service member came especially close to his old island stomping grounds Wednesday, July 30 during the annual Parade of Ships. The Essex, guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), guided-missile destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83), two Royal Canadian Navy ships and one U.S. Coast Guard vessel all participated in the parade ­— which passed near Bainbridge Island while crossing the Sound before doubling back past the downtown Seattle waterfront and the gathered crowd.

The Essex is one of eight ships in the WASP class designation. It was commissioned in 1992 and boasts a crew of approximately 1,100 sailors. The ship is 844 feet long and 106 feet wide and can cruise in excess of 20 knots. It, and the other Seafair participants, left Seattle Monday, Aug. 4.


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