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Fairfield sailor wins poetry contest

Fairfield native Hailey Coop is seen aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson. Coop is close to completing six years in the U.S. Navy after having graduated from Fairfield High School. (Photo courtesy of Hailey Coop)
Fairfield native Hailey Coop is seen aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson. Coop is close to completing six years in the U.S. Navy after having graduated from Fairfield High School. (Photo courtesy of Hailey Coop)
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PACIFIC OCEAN — A Fairfield native has been recognized for a clever poem she authored in a poetry competition aboard a U.S. Navy ship.

Hailey Coop won a contest to have her poem published as the first official log in 2021 in the log book of the USS Ralph Johnson, a destroyer deployed in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Navy has a tradition of making the first deck log of the year written in verse.

The USS Ralph Johnson held a contest among sailors of all ranks to submit a poem to be used as the first entry in the log book, with the winner receiving prizes and “the assurance that their poem would be enshrined in the deck log and thus in the annals of history,” according to mass communication specialist Anthony Collier of the U.S. Navy.

Coop, who works on the ship as an electronics technician second class, won the contest. Her poem of about 50 lines captures daily life aboard the USS Ralph Johnson and the unique experience of 2020, such as the arrival of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Her poem begins:

“The ball may be dropping in time square.

Onboard Ralph Johnson we’re still in the middle of the ocean somewhere.

Our time on deployment was supposed to be fun.

But then came Ms. Rona, and oh how she’s won.”

Coop said it was an honor to have her poem chosen as the winner and to have it immortalized in the deck log. Coop has been with the USS Ralph Johnson since 2016, even before it was commissioned in 2018. She was part of the crew that prepared the ship to be what it is today.

“They call the crew that placed the ship into commission the ‘plankowner crew,’ and this is something I can proudly say I am a part of,” she said. “Getting to where we are at today on the Ralph Johnson took a lot of blood sweat and tears, and it most certainly wouldn’t have been possible had we not had the amazing group of people we did to commission the ship.”

Coop said poetry is not something she does regularly. She recalled that as a student at Fairfield High School, English teacher Scott Slechta told the class to write a poem. Coop said poetry came easily to her, but she never made it a hobby.

The Fairfield native is the daughter of Travis Coop and Desi Coop, and the sister of Gatlon Coop. Her grandparents are Delores Rivera, Betty Coop and Michael Coop, and her aunt is Katie Pilcher.

While a student in Fairfield, Coop participated in volleyball, band and choir. She said she had some incredible teachers at Fairfield Middle School and Fairfield High School, with some of her favorites being science teacher Cory Klehm, kindergarten teacher Taryn Ryan, band instructors Jim Edgeton and Aaron Adam, and “last but not least, Mr. Slechta.”

“I don’t mean to discredit the other teachers who taught me because they were all very good,” Coop said. “Whether they know it or not, the group of people I mentioned have taught me some very big life lessons that have gotten me though some very trying times while being in the military. For that I am extremely grateful and wish them all the best.”

Coop joined the U.S. Navy after high school because she wanted to see more of the world than just “the little town in Iowa I was living in.” Apart from being able to travel, an added bonus of joining the Navy was that it would pay for her college degree once she got out. This coming March, Coop will have been enlisted six years.

The USS Ralph Johnson is a guided-missile destroyer. Destroyers are small and fast ships that specialize in defending against submarines and aircraft, and often accompany larger ships. For instance, the USS Ralph Johnson was one of two guided-missile destroyers to escort the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz when it deployed last year.

Though it’s nowhere as large as an aircraft carrier, a destroyer can still accommodate a few hundred sailors. Coop said she’s been with the same 325 people for the past 10 months.

“We work together, eat together, and we sleep in very close quarters,” she said.

The chefs aboard the ship try to keep mealtime interesting by making something different each day of the week, so Monday is Chinese food, Tuesday is tacos, Wednesday is burgers, etc. Unfortunately, Coop has food allergies and can’t enjoy this variety.

“For the majority of my deployment, I’ve been eating rice and tuna or protein shakes,” she said.

In the Navy, the sleeping quarters aboard a ship are called “berthings,” and they are rooms with lots of bunk beds since space is at such a premium. Coop said some of the bigger berthings for the men can accommodate 80 sailors.

Coop said her day-to-day schedule consists of getting up, performing the duties of her job, attending meetings and eating meals in between. Once she’s completed her tasks for the day, it’s time for bed.

“A lot of people workout, play video games, read, color, play cards in their free time,” Coop said. “Other than that though there isn’t much you can do out here.”

Coop said she doesn’t have many opportunities to reach out to her family back here in Iowa, but she’s hoping that now they will know a little bit more about what she’s doing and the little bit of fame she’s achieved through her poetry.

Coop’s entire poem is written below.

“The ball may be dropping in time square.

Onboard Ralph Johnson we’re still in the middle of the ocean somewhere.

Our time on deployment was supposed to be fun.

But then came Ms. Rona, and oh how she’s won.

She took all our ports and made us a bubble.

From what we can tell she has given us nothing but trouble.

She made us wear masks and clean all around.

You would not believe all the dirt that we found.

Everyone is hiding and in quarantine.

Why is it so hard to find a vaccine?

Our crew is still working because we’re essential.

The trips that we take are quite confidential.

We boarded a small boat and gave them a fright

Searched top to bottom all day and night.

We seized everything the law deems illegal.

There was so much you could fill a cathedral.

We allowed scary pirates to come aboard our ship.

They said they would have us all cleansed in a zip.

Opened their mouths and ate our wogs like little snacks.

After they spit them out they called them all shellbacks.

No mission or Pirates can stop our team.

We are closer and stronger than we all may seem.

A family of warriors is hard to bring down.

We will keep fighting until the next year rolls around.

Our mission out here is to following all orders.

We could not carry on without our supporters.

To our supporters at home and our families who need us.

We are coming home soon and that you can trust.

Continue the watch. U/W as before.

It doesn’t matter if you are tired to the core.

Independent steaming in the Pacific Ocean.

Only Ralph Johnson can cause such commotion.

No other ships are out here showing their presence.

The only ones out here are just us peasants.

Engineering plant status is as follows: 1 & 2 GTG’s online, 2B GTM’s online, 2 and 3.

A/C units online, No. 5 fire pumps online, 1, 3, 4 5 SWS pumps online.

Engineers claim that everything’s fine.

Condition 3 readiness is what we achieve.

The crew is so ready to take leave.

Modified zebra set.

That you can bet.

EMCON Delta set.

All objectives were met.

All Nav lights are bright.

So anyone out there will see us all right.

The OOD is LTJG Miller. The Captain is tired and off the bridge for the night.

We traveled 421.05 NM throughout this day.

Everyone’s excited to be home, it’s not far away.

The work and the struggles have made us both happy and sad.

Thank you 2020 for all the memories you had.”