20 Years Ago: 5-2-93 — Sailor deserts his ship after orders to dump trash into the ocean

“In what may be the first case of its kind, Ahearn said he
will file for an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector
based on environmental concerns if Navy officials do not transfer
him to a non-polluting assignment.The news report is below.”

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Sailor deserts his ship after orders to dump trash into the ocean
May 2, 1993, The Houston Chronicle

A surfer who joined the Navy to learn welding but instead
says he was ordered to dump tons of plastic, broken equipment and
toxic waste into the ocean faces court martial for deserting his
ship.

Aaron Ahearn, a 20-year-old Santa Cruz native who claimed his
conscience could not allow him to continue throwing waste from the
decks of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, returned to the
Alameda Naval Air Station last week to turn himself in.

“It was demoralizing,” said Ahearn, a competitive surfer
who has ridden waves from Hawaii to Mexico. “It went against
everything I believe in. I still feel like I can never forgive
myself.”

In what may be the first case of its kind, Ahearn said he
will file for an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector
based on environmental concerns if Navy officials do not transfer
him to a non-polluting assignment.

He expects to spend time behind bars.

“People don’t have any idea this is going on,” he said.
“”They need to know. ”

Government vessels, including the Navy and Coast Guard, are
exempt from a 1987 federal law that bans cruise ships and other
boats from discharging plastics in U.S. waters.

“It’s legal. That’s the problem,” said Maria Brown-Babcock
of the Center for Marine Conservation in San Francisco.

Naval officials in Washington, D.C., and on the Abraham
Lincoln said they did not have enough details to discuss Ahearn’s
charges.

“Let me assure you, we are in full compliance with Navy
regulations” said Lt. Kent Davis, public affairs officer on the
Abraham Lincoln.

“We recently had a trash and toxics inspection, and we
passed without a hitch.”

According to a 1990 Coast Guard study, the Navy dumps 63,356
tons of garbage a year into U.S. waters, more than all commercial
passenger ships combined. But by comparison, recreational boaters
dump 421,371 tons a year.

Ahearn said the public would be appalled at the Navy’s
garbage habits.

He enlisted last April after talking to his grandfather, a
former Navy welder who served during World War II. Assigned to the
Abraham Lincoln in October, Ahearn worked sewage maintenance tasks
and later garbage disposal from the ship’s galley, as is customary
for junior sailors.

His job included heaving up to 200 plastic bags a day
overboard when the 1,092-foot ship was in open sea off the
California coast, he said.

The bags contained the trash from 5,500 crew members, Ahearn
said in an interview. Food packaging and grease from deep fryers
were common.

Sailors also threw unwanted desks, chairs, doors and
computers into the Pacific Ocean.

“I saw a filing cabinet go over one day,” he said. “They’d
throw anything — metals, plastics, whatever. All of it is in these
huge plastic bags.”

Navy officials disputed the charges. They said the Navy
requires furniture to be salvaged for reuse or public auction.
“I wasn’t there,” said Lt. Matt Brown, a Navy spokesman at
the Pentagon. “But I can’t believe someone would throw a desk
overboard.”

For years, environmental groups have cited plastics as a
major threat to the ocean. Not only does the refuse entangle
wildlife and boat propellers, it also kills whales, seabirds and
turtles who ingest it.

Naval officials said most plastic is brought back to shore on
voyages shorter than 20 days. Plastic contaminated by food is
thrown in the water after three days for health reasons, they said.
On long voyages most trash is dumped overboard, at a distance
of at least 50 miles from shore, said Brown. Treated sewage is
released three miles or more out to sea, as is common with most
private boats. Navy regulations require all toxics and medical
waste to be brought ashore.

In congressional testimony last September, Assistant
Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment Jacqueline
Schafer said the Navy has cut its plastics use by 70 percent in
recent years. The Navy will install new plastics compactors by 1998
on all ships and has aggressive recycling programs, she said.
Ahearn tells a different story.

Recycling programs on the Abraham Lincoln were largely
ignored, he said.

Special hazardous waste containers also went unused in some
cases, he said. Paint and toxic chemicals were tossed overboard
when sailors too lazy to use specially marked hazardous waste
containers simply dumped the liquids in the plastic trash bags.
Upset at his assignment, Ahearn requested a transfer but was
rejected by superiors. Once he attempted to photograph the dumping.
A petty officer noticed and angrily tossed his disposable camera
overboard, he said.

Ahearn grew up in staunchly environmental Santa Cruz and
participated in yearly public beach cleanups. Since the age of 13,
he has been a member of the clean-water advocacy group, the
Surfrider Foundation.

A practicing martial arts expert, he described himself as
“not anti-military, just anti-pollution.”

As to critics who say he just wanted a way out of the
military, Ahearn said he hopes to stay. “If I wanted out, I would
have said I was gay or something,” he said.

He deserted the ship Feb. 13 when it docked in San Francisco
Bay. In the interim, Ahearn hid in Santa Cruz. He was escorted back
to the base by Doug Rand, a staff member at the Resource Center for
Nonviolence, a Santa Cruz peace advocacy group.

4 thoughts on “20 Years Ago: 5-2-93 — Sailor deserts his ship after orders to dump trash into the ocean”

  1. This should be a cautionary tale for any employer. It’s still legal and legit to discriminate against greens.

    By the way, what the heck is the guy doing with a camera? I mean, *at all?* That’s a potential gaping hole in security, and the press is utterly merciless in their handling of photos of military personnel and facilities. Ahearn should go in the brig on a possession bust, and do hard time for trying to use the thing.

  2. I was his best friend 20 years ago. He told me bragging at length one night over some whiskey about how he faked the environmental Concerns to get him out of trouble for going AWOL to see his girlfriend Torrey. He was real proud of how pearl jam played a benefit and how he beat the system on a lie

  3. First, lets make it clear that I was never best friends with this Luke fellow, he was a neighbor in a mobile home park, and at no time did I ever make some “at length” confession about faking enviromental concerns. Second, the luke whom lived next to me was a drug addicted, bi-polar loner who scared the hell out of my then wife and I with his fear that the police were constantly watching him.
    I love to read all these years later how this nut case claims we were ,”best friends” when in reality we feared living next to this guy who would spend his nights doing drugs and playing with firearms he claimed to need for the police whom were watching him.
    I was really prould that Pearl Jam had played a benefit concert to help with the legal fees which were mounting after going public with the Navy’s dumping practices. I did know this Luke for a period of about four months, but to have this person who scare my then wife and I into moving from the mobile home park to get away from his reckless/dangerous drug addict, who would stay up night after night high on drugs with his loaded shot gun only yards from where our son slept is jsut sad.
    Since this time in my life, I have re-joined another branch of service where to this day I am still enlisted with almost 19 years of service to this great nation, five deployments during this war on terror, injured in 2004 in combat in Iraq, and planning on continuing my services for as long as posible.
    Luke, I wish you the best possible, but with this stated I feel the need to also state that I still feel the need to be as far away from your delusions of reality almost twenty years after I was forced to move for the safety of my then family from you. I wish you the best, but you really need to get a grip on reality. YOU WERE NEVER EVEN CLOSE TO BEING A FRIEND, LET ALONE A ,”BEST FRIEND” as you stated in your comment above. Further more, if you continue to spew your lies about me, I will be forced to bring a suit against your for slander.
    As for the next reader of this article, I was a young man whom had grown up in an environment where we respected the ocean which God gave us, and I found myself in a tough position at the ripe age of twenty. The decisions I made then would be different then the decisions I would make today with the same circumstances. I whole heartedly stand by what I did so many years ago, but would have done them different if confronted with the same dilema today.
    Times have changed with the current events of 9/11 2001, and for readers today I can totally understand how the events of 1993 might seem difficult to grasp, but never the less..I stood up for the environment which I learned to love, raised in a town who loves the environment more then most could only hope to understand! I stand to this day by the fight I fought so many years ago.
    I am sorry that the majority of this reply was in defense of my name, but how dare someone who barely even knew me back then make a comment like the one he made, and if my actions against the United States Navy did not make it clear all the way back then, well maybe the comments here all these years later will…..
    “Don’t think that you can lie about me and have me stand for it, dont think that you can tell me to do something unjust and have me acquies. If I would stand and fight the Federal Government about issues which were morally wrong, what makes you think that all these years later I would put up with some low life slug defaming my name, and not respond!!!!!”
    “Pack Your Trash”, and Luke climb back in what ever hole you crawled out of, I am not the one you want to cross. The years have made me wiser, my servi8ce has made me stronger, and my education has made me smart enought to know that I will crush you!!!!!

    SSG Ahearn, Aaron M.
    United States Army

  4. I admire Ahearn and applaud his courage and principles. I was an enlisted UDT/SEAL from 1973-76, and then rode the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea as a photographers mate in 1980 from the South China Sea to the the Gulf of Oman and back across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, and on every ship I rode I saw the dumping of trash indicriminately off the fantail, abiding only to the law of international waters to guide their disposal of such waste. Always, it troubled me deeply to witness it. Ahearn acted on his principles, and in my opinion, acted with properly at great personal cost. (I grew up in Redondo Beach, California in the 1960’s and early ’70’s prior to my first enlistment.)

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