ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In the fight against ISIS, part of the U.S.-led coalition is on the sea. Until recently the USS Truman aircraft carrier was in the Persian Gulf. From there it sent war planes to bomb ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. Now the Truman is on its way home. But it has a mission along the way. It's in the eastern Mediterranean, where NPR's Sylvia Poggioli climbed aboard, and she reports it is there in part because of Russia.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Stretching more than a thousand feet, the USS Truman's flight deck is as long as the Empire State Building is tall.
(SOUNDBITE OF JET ENGINES)
POGGIOLI: And it provides an earsplitting show as one after another F/A-18 jet fighters are catapulted off the deck into the sky. With more than 70 tactical and support aircraft and 80 to 85 sorties a day, it's nonstop activity.
CHAD CLARK: It's kind of coordinated chaos up there.
POGGIOLI: Flight deck controller Chad Clark says his job is like that of a quarterback.
CLARK: You got your teammates that are on the field and they execute the plays you're the offensive coordinator. You coach. You tell them where to go and they're out there executing the mission out there on the flight.
POGGIOLI: The nuclear-powered USS Truman has some 5,500 crewmembers. The ship was supposed to be heading home now, but its mission was extended by a month and a half. Captain David Little, commander of the air squadron, says the move into the Mediterranean was meant to send a signal.
DAVID LITTLE: Being here is important. It shows our coalition partners that we have flexibility to maneuver, to operate where needed. And we have the ability to execute from here in the Mediterranean while doing other operations here as well.
POGGIOLI: Officials in Washington indicate the USS Truman is here also to keep a check on Russia, which has 10 to 15 ships in this sea. Ship officers say airstrikes launched against ISIS in Iraq and Syria are pretty much the same as those from the Persian Gulf. Rear Admiral Bret Batchelder, commander of the carrier strike group, says the mission has been very successful.
BRET BATCHELDER: We have taken back about 45 percent of the populated land in Iraq that ISIL once controlled. Yes, I feel like we're getting the job done.
POGGIOLI: But the air war against ISIS is not waged just by dropping bombs. Along with fighter jets, the ship also carries Growlers that specialize in electronic warfare. Naval Flight Officer Lieutenant Kali Billings says her main task on Growler missions is jamming ISIS radar and communications to assist pilots carrying out airstrikes.
KALI BILLINGS: We add kind of another level of lethality in terms of our strike fighters can go out there and bomb things. And then we can manipulate the surrounding areas in terms of how people are talking to each other or denying that and just adding to the chaos of a very strong moment.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through PA system, unintelligible) you are cleared to detach. Enjoy your well-deserved departure (ph).
POGGIOLI: Before leaving the ship, we're treated to a transfer of command ceremony.
(SOUNDBITE OF JET ENGINE)
POGGIOLI: The commander of the Fist of the Fleet squadron is retiring. He and the new commander fly their jets over the ship and salute each other as white flares shoot across the clear sky.
KADIJAH BURTON: (Singing) Oh beautiful for spacious skies...
POGGIOLI: Standing on the control tower above the flight deck, logistic specialist and squadron member, Kadijah Burton, closes the ceremony in song.
BURTON: (Singing) America, America God shed his...
POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, in the eastern Mediterranean.
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