UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — An argument between two enlisted crew from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has sparked fierce division and actual violence among sailors, forcing the ship into emergency port call for repairs.
Sources agree that the argument began at approximately 3 bells (0300) Arabian Standard Time on Friday morning, when Culinary Specialists Third Class James Horner and David Pieman reported for duty and began mess preparation. Although details are scarce, witnesses agree that Horner declared tomatoes were vegetables, while Pieman held that they were fruit.
“The seeds are on the inside!” Pieman was heard shouting, as the conflict began to escalate.
“Strawberries are fruit, and their seeds are on the outside!” responded Horner.
“Bullshit! The seeds are still inside the fruit!”
“What about bananas? Where are the seeds in a banana, smart ass?”
“Inside the fruit!”
The debate raged on throughout the serving of first mess, embroiling other culinary staff as well as sailors from other departments who attended breakfast on the mess deck. By midday, the altercation had turned physical, when three sailors were admitted to the medical bay with cuts and bruises.
“I was just minding my own business at the Air Traffic Control Tower, when one of my shipmates sits down next to me and starts telling me about these cooks arguing at breakfast, and how tomatoes are obviously fruit,” reported AC2 Simon Hadley from his hospital bed. “I thought to myself, 'Oh, hell no,' and proceeded to school this dumb motherfucker on the vegetable-ness of the tomato.”
Hadley, whose nose was broken and right eye swollen shut during the ensuing physical altercation, remains adamant in his position.
“I'm from New Jersey. Our state vegetable is the tomato, damn it.”
Capt. Marcus Hitchcock, commanding officer of the Eisenhower, disagrees.
“It's just silly, the way these grown men and women are behaving,” he said in a telephone interview. “The Navy is the most advanced, most capable, most powerful fleet the world has ever known, and I'll be damned if a single sailor in my command is going to tell me that a tomato is anything but a fruit!” he exclaimed, pounding his Naval Academy ring on the table.
Calm was briefly restored when Hitchcock ordered Captain's Masts for five sailors for their roles in escalating the conflict. However, word spread quickly once it was realized that all five believed tomatoes were vegetables, and rioting began in the early evening.
Damage Controllmen dispatched to fight fires and repair vital ship systems found some passages blocked by combatants from both sides of the conflict, slowing their progress and ultimately forcing the ship into Jebel Ali, U.A.E. for emergency repairs to one of its nuclear reactors.
Though unexpected, this is not the first time a petty argument has created chaos amidst the ranks of the armed forces. In July 2012, while deployed to Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, the 118th Infantry Regiment of the South Carolina Army National Guard was nearly disbanded over an argument between a Private First Class and a Specialist over who was more attractive: Jessica Biel, or Jessica Alba. As a result, 13 soldiers were reduced in rank, 3 were wounded, and a government dining facility was destroyed.
While petty, meaningless arguments are commonplace in the military, where bored servicemembers must create their own entertainment, it is rare that they “poison every level of the command structure,” says Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy. Navy officials have taken no punitive actions yet, though the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier may face suspension pending an investigation once the ship returns to U.S. shores.
Even earlier, in 2007, a company of Marines in Iraq was struck with blanket non-judicial punishments when Xbox-versus-Playstation controversy led to infighting which tied up radio communication during a routine convoy operation. It was ultimately quashed by the company's First Sergeant, who described himself as “a Sega Genesis man.”
With the ship docked for repairs, it could be weeks before order is restored to the Eisenhower; however, Captain Hitchcock remains hopeful.
“We're all adults here, and I believe we are all capable of putting this childishness behind us. Eventually, we'll be able to forget all about this petty disagreement.”
“Say,” he added before leaving, “you don't happen to know if dogs can look up, do you?”