ABOARD USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (NNS) -- While USS Theodore Roosevelt (TR) (CVN 71) Sailors are simulating being underway conducting a fast cruise at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, it is business as usual for most Sailors, but one group keeps cameras by their sides and ears glued to the 1MC.
TR's Snoopy Team springs into action when they hear the words - "Away the Snoopy Team, away!" They rush topside with their cameras ready to document any unusual contacts the ship comes across.
"Our primary mission is to take pictures of any surface contact the ship may have," said Photographer's Mate Airman Christopher Thamann, one of three TR photomates assigned to the Snoopy Team. "Once we hear, 'Away the Snoo-', we're gone. It's that fast. We have to drop whatever we're doing in the Photo Lab and make it up three decks and 10 levels in a matter of minutes."
Thamann said the team has two camera batteries that are always being charged in the photo lab, reserved just for Snoopy situations. The team also uses state-of-the-art equipment to ensure accuracy. And just prior to heading up to the O-10 level, one of the three grabs the Snoopy keys, which fittingly sport a Snoopy figurine key chain.
"Once we leave the lab and start making our way up the ladderwells," Thamann said, "people realize we're on Snoopy and just step to the side."
Once Thamann and fellow Snoopy Teamers, Photographer's Mate Airman Eben Boothby and Photographer's Mate Airman Sheldon Rowley, arrive on the signal bridge, they immediately remove their digital cameras and two high-powered lenses from the safe.
"We have a 400- and a 600-mm lens, and we hook them up to the two Nikon D1-X cameras we have up there," Boothby said. "Once we're hooked up and ready to go, we shoot whatever the intelligence specialists tell us they need."
In addition to admin department's photomates, operations makes up part of the team and sends two personnel to the O-10, playing the role of director, telling the photomates what is needed.
"What we're really looking out for, for the most part, is the merchant traffic in the area whenever we're arriving or departing," said Intelligence Specialist Seaman Phil Demacos. "If we're away from the heavy traffic, whenever there is a ship in sight that hasn't established contact with us, we call for Snoopy to see exactly what's out there."
The intelligence specialitsts file away all photographic documentation provided by the Snoopy Team and use them as a reference for any possible future encounters.
"A good example is if we were out about 50 miles off shore and a vessel is spotted that we cannot recognize, we call for Snoopy," Demacos said. "If the vessel is a fishing vessel that we 'snooped' the day before, it's something we'd learn by referring to our filing system."
In a case like this, it makes it easy to disregard any immediate threat. That, however, does not mean the innocent fishing vessel looming on the horizon is not carefully monitored.
"No matter what surface contact there is, we're up there getting those pictures, because it is number one priority to visually identify whatever is out there within sight," Demacos said. "It's primarily for merchant purposes, but overall, it all comes down to situational awareness."
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