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Surfer takes on the Navy.

Twenty-year-old Aaron Ahearn was a surfer in Santa Cruz before he joined the Navy to become a welder. His first assignment was to sewage and scullery detail aboard the Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier with a crew of nearly 6,000.

Ahearn was ordered to help dump 200 plastic bags full of garbage into the ocean every day, along with old computers and desks, hazardous solvents, and raw sewage - all in violation of environmental laws and the Navy's own rules.

Disturbed by the damage he was doing to the sea, he spoke to the ship's chaplain about it. He then tried to photograph the dumpings, but a Navy officer threw his camera overboard. When he approached his commanding officer with a written request for a transfer of duties, he says, the officer ripped it up in his face.

A disillusioned Ahearn left the ship without leave when it docked in Alameda on February 13.

"In six months I saw enough stuff to make anybody who cares about this world throw up," says Ahearn. "I can no longer participate in an activity or an institution which is killing the environment and killing all living things. It goes against everything I believe as a surfer."

Ahearn hid out with his girlfriend in Santa Cruz for ten weeks, during which time he got counseling from Doug Rand at the Resource Center for Nonviolence, a local peace group. With Rand's support, Ahearn turned himself in to the Navy on April 27.

The Navy conducted an investigation of Ahearn's charges, overseen by an officer on the Abraham Lincoln. "The bottom line is, we do not dump hazardous materials," says Captain Ray Archer, supply officer for the Pacific fleet. Ahearn just wanted to visit his girlfriend, Archer says, and fabricated his story "to cover and cloud his desertion."

But the publicity Ahearn's case attracted prompted other Navy veterans to come forward. Former Petty Officer Third Class Jason Girard of Chicago served aboard the Abraham Lincoln from 1988 to 1992. He claims that broken furniture, paint, solvents, caustics, and plastics were routinely tossed overboard. Girard even produced pictures of the dumping.

Ken Current, a sailor aboard the US.S. Whidbey, says the ship dumps sewage within fifty nautical miles of land.

Peter De Avila of Malibu, California, who served aboard the US.S. Juneau from 1984 to 1988, says he had to dump empty paint cans, solvents, and other waste that should have been disposed of ashore.

"This lack of concern for the environment is prevalent throughout the Naval Fleet," says De Avila. "I just wish I could have done what Aaron has to bring this problem to the attention of everyone."

At his trial, Ahearn wore his dress white uniform. On the back of his neck were tattooed the words Pack Your Trash. Except for the tattoo, there was no mention of the environment in the court - a deal the defense struck with the Navy, which resulted in a lighter sentence for Ahearn of thirty-five days in the brig, a reduction in rank, and a $500 fine. But after he received his sentence, Ahearn made a statement saying he would continue to work to end pollution of the oceans.

Ahearn has become a celebrity in Santa Cruz, and has won the support of the county's board of supervisors, several environmental groups, and the local VFW Post. "He has taken this stand based on deep feelings about environmental protection that he learned right here in our community," says Supervisor Gary Patton. "Aaron Ahearn took all that to heart and simply could not go against his conscience."

Ahearn is now serving his time in the brig. Congress will soon be considering the Navy's request for a five-year exemption from compliance with regulations against dumping plastics at sea.
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Title Annotation:environmental protester Aaron Ahearn
Author:Alibrani, Tom
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Words:629
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