The spokesman said strikes would resume, with missions leaving late Friday. He said the level of bombing Thursday night was about the same as previous nights, though it had ended by 3 a.m. Friday.
The bombings were stopped because of the Muslim holy day, the spokesman said. On Fridays, practicing Muslims gather at mosques to hear weekly sermons and perform prayers. In London, British defense official Lewis Moonie said the lull in strikes could last for several days because of a Muslim holiday over the weekend.
Under the military's ground rules, most of the crew of the Enterprise--which is in the Arabian Sea--cannot be fully identified. Commanding officers can decide for themselves, but most have been unwilling to allow their names to be used.
The respite from bombing runs, however, hasn't meant any less work for the Enterprise crew, which had to handle 36 straight hours of takeoffs and landings--from Thursday night until late Saturday morning--instead of the usual 15-hour stretch. The carrier was asked to pick up runs for another aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson. Flight operations on the Vinson were suspended while it received new supplies of fuel, food, parts and equipment.
In the Enterprise hangar, crews manning the flight deck grabbed cat naps on cardboard boxes or on metal platforms between equipment stored in back rooms--crashing out covered in black grease until called on. "It's a bit tiring," the Enterprise's captain acknowledged in an address over the public address system. But, he said: "We still have an important job to do out here."
Many among the crew, straining to hear the captain over noise from the flight deck above, shook their heads at the longer hours; others listened quietly. The captain praised "everybody from the flight crew on down," saying, "things continue to go very well." Pilots have spoken about unusually lengthy flight missions within the regular 15-hour stretches of air operations, spending up to eight hours in the air at a time since the bombings started Sunday night.
The air wing commander, Capt. David Mercer, 45, of Prospect Park, Pa., has said such flying requires more concentration but that pilots aren't scheduled for back-to-back sorties. Though many of the 5,100 people aboard the Enterprise are on regular 12-hour shifts, some on the flight deck will stay up with the planes. "We have to kind of watch the younger guys," said Paul, a senior chief in the safety department. "If they look too tired, we talk to their supervisors (and) may have to take them off the deck."
So far, nobody has had to be removed, said Paul, 44, from Waynesboro, Va. James, 22, of Tulsa, Okla., is part of a crew on hand when each plane returns, hauling around rescue cables and performing maintenance on the flight deck. He said he'd heard before the captain's announcement to expect 30 hours of flight operations, so another six didn't faze him. "I'm able to function, that's for sure," James said.
Training for those seeing planes off and on the carrier includes keeping awake and busy for long stretches, he said, ensuring readiness for real situations. Matthew, 21, also part of the plane recovery team, said "30 is too much." But, he added, "we have skills that most people don't. ... We can sleep through anything. We can sleep in anything--piles of dirt, grease."
Generally, sleep comes 30 to 45 minutes at a time, said Matthew, of Ceres, Calif. Both men said they do indeed have a bed somewhere on the Enterprise. "Sometimes we forget where it is," James said, laughing. "But they train us to be able to sleep anywhere."