By Tim Eberly
Tom Wolf works inside a 97,000-ton celebrity.
This particular celebrity has hosted episodes of the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, had a cameo in the 2000 movie "Pearl Harbor" and has shared the spotlight with others in the public eye, like former "Baywatch" star Pam Anderson and actor Ben Affleck. Television journalists from CNN are currently broadcasting reports of the war in Afghanistan from its decks.
The celebrity is the USS John C. Stennis, a 1,092-foot nuclear-powered aircraft carrier currently in the waters of the Persian Gulf.
Wolf, a 1987 Havre High graduate, is one of 5,500 U.S. Navy personnel aboard the Stennis, the cornerstone of a 10-ship battle group.
As an operation specialist on the Stennis, the 33-year-old Wolf spends the lion's share of his time in the carrier's radar room, in a basement level of the Stennis.
"He said he almost never sees daylight because he's down below working," said Tom's mother, Peggy Wolf, a Havre businesswoman.
Some of his precious free moments are filled corresponding with his wife of four years, Stephanie, and the couple's 1 -year-old daughter, Madison. Stephanie is eagerly awaiting Tom's arrival in San Diego, where the family resides, in May.
Two weeks ago, Peggy fielded a call from Tom while the Stennis was docked in Singapore. Other than briefly describing the interior of the carrier to Peggy it has two mess halls on each end, and a gift shop Tom told her to look out for him on CNN, which broadcasted a few segments from his area on the vessel.
"He said, Look out for a bulletin board with Christmas stockings on it' because that's where he is," Peggy, 54, said. Peggy owns the Lunch Box in downtown Havre. Tom's sister, Julie Davidson, 30, owns Wolfer's Diner with her husband, Don.
For safety reasons, Tom could not disclose the Stennis' exact location or destination. "He said he could not tell us at all," Peggy said. "He just said he was in the area he was supposed to be."
But he did mention the weather in Singapore. "He said that it was very, very hot there," Peggy said. "He said the temperature was in the 100s and so was the humidity."
Within the last few days, the Stennis arrived in the Persian Gulf. According to Stephanie Wolf, the carrier officially engaged in combat last Tuesday, Peggy said. The Stennis, which transported 50 armed strike planes and 25 other aircraft on its six-week trip from San Diego to the Arabian Sea, replaced the USS Carl Vinson. The Stennis is designed to conduct air strikes, support land battles, and act as a sea or air blockade.
"I worry and I cry a lot because just to think that he's over there in the middle of it," said Peggy. "But we're proud of him and he's proud to be there."
It's the man in the throes of Operation Enduring Freedom who acts as a calming influence. "He says he's safer on the ship than we are on land," said Peggy, who receives about two e-mails a week from Tom. "He has no fear at all. Mother does, but he doesn't."
A 14-year member of the Navy, Tom developed an interest in the military during his junior year at Havre High. In fact, he signed on the Navy's dotted line while still in his junior year, a full year before he departed for boot camp in Virginia Beach, Va.
"At that time, there weren't many other options other than college," Peggy said. "And he wasn't interested in college."
During one of his six-month stints at sea, Tom was on the USS Gridley in 1996-97 while serving in the Persian Gulf War. Every four years, Tom is required to spend six months at sea on a Navy vessel. The conflict in Afghanistan pushed Tom's term at sea ahead three months.
"It was his ship's turn to leave," Peggy said. Tom plans to retire in five years, but he "knew he'd have to go out once or twice more before then."
On May 15, the Stennis' scheduled return, Peggy, Julie and Don plan to be at the San Diego port to greet Tom when he sets foot on land. They were supposed to fly down to San Diego to spend the Christmas holiday with Tom and his family, but had to cancel their flights in November when Tom got word of his early departure.
In May, Peggy and her family will be in for a celebration with live bands as the ship arrives.
"His wife said they make a big production when the ship comes in," Peggy said. "That's something we're looking forward to."