On her first Christmas away from home, 21-year-old Megan Alascia is about as far away as she can get.
Aviation Ordnance Airman Alascia is afloat in the Gulf of Oman aboard the Nimitz, one of several aircraft carriers providing air support for ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's a little rough," being away from family and friends in the holiday season, the daughter of Susan and Anthony Alascia of Spring Hill said Thursday by satellite phone.
On nomination from her lead and chief petty officers, naval communications put her in touch with the St. Petersburg Times on Christmas Eve to share her thoughts and seasonal wishes.
"Tell everybody at home 'Merry Christmas' and I miss them and I'll be home soon," she said. "I miss my family a lot. I'm very family-oriented, but it's important for me to be here."
Alascia added, "I have a lot of friends on board and people who care about me, so that's easier."
Christmas Day was designated a "relax day," said the naval enlistee, who has been at sea since July. "I get to sleep in a little bit." On Christmas Eve, she attended midnight Mass and opened gifts sent from home.
Although gifts to her and her fellow shipmates arrived a couple of weeks ago, Alascia said, "I think I was one of the few who waited to open them." That she reserved for her Christmas Eve docket.
A special holiday meal also was on the schedule. A couple of comedians and other entertainment came aboard. "They do a lot of good stuff for us," said the 2006 graduate of Central High School.
Over the holidays, as well as many other days, Alascia keeps in touch with family and Florida friends via Internet access to Facebook. "And I e-mail, too, which is pretty cool. I e-mail my mom all the time."
Alascia tackles important assignments as a member of the aviation ordnance team. She is responsible for maintaining "bombs, rockets and missiles," she explained, keeping them ready for delivery to the aircraft.
"We build them and we make them ready to deliver to aircraft," she said, pointing to the time she spends in the nuclear carrier's armaments magazine and weapons shop during her 12-hour workdays.
Two of her great-uncles saw military service, but she is the first in her immediate family to join. Alascia said she always yearned for military service.
"I'm adventurous and I love helping out,'' she said. "I thought the Navy would be the perfect place for me."
Alascia has fond memories of Weeki Wachee, where she swam and rafted, zoomed down the water slides at Buccaneer Bay.
But those activities didn't give her sea legs. "It took a while to get used to (onboard life)," Alascia said. "I didn't get nauseous. It was more difficult to balance. At night, the ocean rocks us to sleep. It's really nice. It's soothing, almost."
Soothing ends at 6 a.m. reveille, when she gets up to start work.
"I thought it would be pretty exciting," she said. After graduating from boot camp, she took classes in ordnance, then deployed on the Nimitz out of San Diego and expects sea duty to continue through March. "Being out here is definitely the experience of a lifetime," she said.
And Alascia goes the extra mile, or knot. She volunteers in the ship's kitchen, where meals are prepared and served three times daily to some 4,000 crew members. "This way I don't forget my cooking aspect."
Before enlistment, she studied culinary arts for two years at the Art Institute of Tampa. For now, that endeavor is on the back burner.
At her end of tour, Alascia is considering signing up for action duty, which would put her on land patrol. "It's for a good cause,'' she said. "It just feels like something I need to do."
Beth Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.