When the USS Bainbridge hunts Somali pirates in the sweltering waters off the Horn of Africa, Chief Petty Officer Daniel D. Perry calls it work. His mother in Millinocket calls it frightening.
Perry, a 38-year-old Millinocket native, saw the near-escape of Maersk Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips, the Navy SEALs sniper operation that killed three Somalis and freed Phillips on Easter Sunday, and the Bainbridge’s thwarting of another piracy — the U.S. cargo ship Liberty Sun — all from within the ship’s combat information center.
“Right now it’s quiet, but we have forces all over the place,” Perry said Wednesday via satellite telephone from the Bath-built, Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. “We read traffic all the time of ships getting hit.”
Yet Perry feels safe.
“The threat for us was really only their AK-47s. We knew they didn’t have rocket launchers,” he said.
That’s good news to 70-year-old Patsy Perry of Millinocket and to Perry’s wife, the former Melanie Cyr, a Lewiston native.
“I sat in front of the TV for four days last week,” Patsy Perry said. “I never thought they were in that much trouble over there. I never realized until it started happening.”
Melanie’s first indication of her husband’s situation came when the Bainbridge was ordered to assist the Maersk.
“I heard ‘USS Bainbridge’ on TV and came screeching out of the laundry room,” she said from their home in Vancleave, Miss. “I felt pride come over me, more than fear. It’s not that they are on the ground in Iraq, where there’s more risk. They are well in control of what they are doing.”
Daniel Perry had dinner with Phillips and the ship’s other chief petty officers last week, discussing the Red Sox and Patriots with the Vermont native.
“Talking to him was like, ‘Wow, that’s what I used to sound like,’” said Perry, who has a slight Southern accent. “His wrists were a little sore from being tied up for five days, but it didn’t seem to faze him much.”
About 1,000 yards away from the lifeboat Phillips was being held in, the Bainbridge crew could do little to help him when he almost escaped the pirates, Perry said.
“If we would have had a boat in the water, we might have been able to do something,” Perry said. “We knew he was trying to swim away. They shot towards him but not at him. We could not see exactly where Capt. Phillips was. Then we saw them get him out of the water.
“It was hard to see if he was OK. We could see him once in a while. We could see that he was tied up,” Perry added. “We only had communications with them a couple of times a day.”
Perry’s job entails monitoring air traffic around the Bainbridge. Mostly the ship was trying to keep the pirates from escaping to Somali waters during the crisis, he said.
The Perrys are known for military service. Two of Daniel Perry’s three brothers, Anthony and John, served in the U.S. Army, their mother said. Her brother Robert and sister Charlene were in the Navy. Her sister Linda joined the U.S. Air Force.
A graduate of Stearns High School in 1990, Daniel, along with his brothers, contributed to the town’s rich Scouting tradition. He, Anthony and John all were Eagle Scouts, Patsy Perry said. Daniel Perry joined the Navy after graduating. He said he refused to burden his family with his education costs.
“He has done very well — made chief,” his mother said of Perry. “I am very proud of everybody on that ship. The Navy is doing a fantastic job over there.”
Perry is among at least four Mainers aboard the Bainbridge. The others are Lt. Adam Jones, a graduate of the University of Maine in Orono, and two sailors whom Perry could identify only as O’Neil and Bailey.
Perry doesn’t see the piracy problem ending anytime soon.
“They are using bigger ships to haul smaller ships out here and using the smaller ships to do the attacking,” Perry said. “It’s definitely a hard thing to manage. We just happened to be in the right place at right time. Until you go in and take out the ground places these cells have, they are going to be out there.”
Nevertheless, his mother sympathizes somewhat with the pirates.
“These people are starving and they have to do something,” she said. “I hate to see people in that position [committing piracy], but we don’t know what it’s like to starve to death. I don’t like what they are doing, but they have to live. We live so much better here than those poor people do over there.”