ABOARD THE U.S.S. GEORGE WASHINGTON — Tyler Dufford wasn’t home for the holidays this Fourth of July.
He missed the celebrations last year, as well. His family back in Fort Mill understands, though. In fact, they’re proud of him spending time at the job he’s had for just over two years. Sometimes, however, being an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (ABEAN) in the U.S. Navy takes its toll on a 20-year-old Fort Mill High graduate.
“Our average work schedule is an 18-hour workday,” Dufford said. “We’ll go to work at 7:30 a.m. and always be moving, running around and sometimes we can’t get off until 2 or 3 a.m. Such is life.”
Dufford, a member of the U.S. 7th Fleet, is a key cog in the machinations which launches and recovers aircraft that land on his floating home for the next six months, the U.S.S. George Washington.
He and his shipmates th Fleet are on a tour of duty aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. For the second Independence Day in a row, he’s spending July in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region of the world. Among the fleets’ area of responsibility th Fleet’s Area of Responsibility are highly influential countries such as the People’s Republic of China, North Korea and Russia. Half of the world’s population lives within this area, th Fleet’s Area of Responsibility, which encompasses more than 48 million square miles, according to a Navy official.
“It’s the most dangerous job in the world,” Tyler’s father, Paul, said last Saturday. “I try to tell him, ‘I don’t care what you do on the ship, but just remember to do it to the best of your ability. If you don’t sweep the floor properly and somebody slips and falls and they don’t get to their post in time, it’s just as critical.’”
It’s often hard for Dufford to keep in touch with family and friends. He’s allowed to write emails home and can receive care packages from time to time, but there will be little opportunity for seeing his family until his tour ends in six months. The western Pacific is 13 hours ahead of South Carolina time. His shipmates have become his closest family.
“It’s so different than living at home, that’s for sure,” Dufford said. “Kind of like living in a one-bedroom apartment with 80 other people as roommates. Needless to say, we all become really, really close. We’re basically each other’s lifelines.”
Whether it’s been at the Lowe’s Foods store on Gold Hill Road, a Sonic drive-in restaurant or a paintball field in Rock Hill, Dufford says he’s worked “since I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” a trait his father, Paul, instilled in him.
“He told me ‘You have to work to stay alive’ and that you’d enjoy it more than if he were to hand it to me,” Dufford said. “He inspired me to work hard and I thank him for it every day.”
“I don’t know that words can express how proud I am of my son,” Paul Dufford said. “The holidays are the most difficult, because that’s where family really means something and it’s difficult any holiday without a member of your family being there.”
Dufford’s seen the shores of South Korea, Hong Kong, Guam, Malaysia and the Philippines in his Navy career, but as the holidays came and passed, he confessed that he missed being in Fort Mill with his family most of all. He especially misses his two border collie/ black Labrador mix dogs, Miya and Abbie.
“I can’t wait to run them around the back yard with a tennis ball,” he said.
There was a time when Dufford would shoot fireworks off in the middle of his Tega Cay street on the Fourth of July, while enjoying a large cookout. He thinks of home often. Whenever he’s on patrol, he wonders if his father would love to go fishing in his part of the world. Or whether his mother would enjoy watching a Pacific sunrise over the edge of the world. It helps him adjust to the drudgery of military life.
“That’s how I bring myself back from ‘Man, this sucks,’ to ‘Hey, this is pretty cool,’” he said. “I get to work, but I’m also getting to see the world while I’m doing it.”
The Duffords haven’t spent a holiday with Tyler since December 2011. They’re holding out hope that he can get time off this Christmas or in January, once the George Washington returns to the United States.
“I just know the next time I get to see my son, it’ll be very fulfilling,” Paul Dufford said. “We’d love to see him home for Christmas. That would be the greatest gift I can imagine.”