Electricians Mate Fireman Alex Morton is a young U.S. Navy Sailor stationed aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) with scuffed boots and paint-stained coveralls that showcase the hard work and long hours he, as a member of the hazardous materials team, puts into ensuring Sailors have the supplies needed to properly maintain Iwo Jima’s mechanical and electrical systems.
In the early morning hours aboard Iwo Jima, he found himself seated in the center of “The Goat Locker,” slang for the Chiefs Mess where the ship’s senior enlisted typically gather to eat and socialize. Roused from his rack just minutes ago, his eyes still red with sleep, he could easily see the chief petty officers were gathered for another reason.
“Do you know why we brought you in here?” asked one of the chiefs.
“No, master chief,” responded Morton, as he shifted in his chair.
“What do you know about some hazmat being thrown over the side last night?” inquired another chief.
“I don’t know anything about that, master chief,” Morton replied
“Well somebody saw you do it,” exclaimed another chief, “and he’s in this room. Take a look around.”
Morton scanned the crowd. Amidst the sea of blue coveralls sat a command master chief in his avocado green working uniform. As their eyes met, the master chief stood up and both he and Morton smiled. The mess erupted into applause and laughter as the command master chief (CMC) and his son embraced.
CMC Jon Morton, command master chief of Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, had flown out to Iwo Jima while his son had been sleeping off a night shift.
“I’m obviously very proud of him,” said the senior Morton. It’s a great experience for me to be able to see him. I don’t go home until November, so just to be able to see him out here is a great experience.”
Morton was a builder in the Naval Construction Battalions, or Seabees, before he became the CMC of Camp Lemonnier, and he had never been deployed on a ship.
“I’ve always been a ground-pounder,” he said. “I hit the ground [in Djibouti] Nov. 4, 2017.”
He explained that while he and his son had talked about the possibility of meeting up, neither knew if or when it would actually happen. Morton’s son, however, suspected that might have been why he was called to “The Goat Locker.”
“I was half-awake,” said Morton. “I threw my coveralls on, and I was like, ‘why would I be called to the Chiefs Mess?’ But I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”
When a master chief told Morton that someone in the room had seen him throw hazmat over the side, he suspected that he and his dad were about to be reunited.
“Having my dad on the ship was amazing,” Morton said. “I was not expecting him to come to the ship so soon. I figured it was going to be later in the month.”
After a brief meeting it was time for the CMC to depart the ship back to Djibouti but not before they took a final photo depicting father and son, master chief and fireman, with their arms around one another on the flight deck ramp of a 40,000-ton warship that is keeping the waters of the Middle East safe and secure.
“This is my last deployment and his first,” Morton said. “So it’s very cool to be able to do this. It’s like that one-percent shot in the dark. It doesn’t happen very often.”
They hugged one more time, said their goodbyes then Morton walked up the ramp to the flight deck while his son watched him leave, not knowing if they would get the chance to see each other again during this deployment.
Iwo Jima, homeported in Mayport, Florida, is on a regularly scheduled deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. Iwo Jima ARG embarks the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and includes Iwo Jima, the transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), Fleet Surgical Team 4 and 8, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, Tactical Air Control Squadron 22, components of Naval Beach Group 2 and the embarked staff of commander, Amphibious Squadron 4.