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In Gulf, US Navy `snipes' have extra-hot job. Men of the engine-room are most vulnerable to mines

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Engineer Jerry Seamons is no stranger to cramped working spaces and dangerous jobs. Prior to joining the US Navy in 1986, he mined coal in Colorado. Now, he makes his living in a war zone, working amid the blast of 110-degree heat and the constant roar of generators and gas turbines 15 feet below the waterline of this guided-missile frigate.

Mr. Seamons, a native of Twin Falls, Idaho, is known on the Vandegrift as ``Oil King.'' The fancy job title is the only perquisite that comes with the hot and messy duty of looking after the fuel supply and lubrication needs of the ship's twin LM 2500 gas turbine engines, the same as on a DC-10 jet.

A fellow engineer describes the duty as ``one of the most thankless jobs in the United States Navy.''

It is a side of the ongoing American military deployment in the Gulf that is rarely, if ever, in the spotlight.

``We're down here where nobody sees us. They don't even think about us as long as the ship is going through the water and doing what it is supposed to do,'' Seamons says, his face and coveralls drenched with sweat.

But the Vandegrift's 42 engineers are the men who would scramble to put out fires and plug holes in the steel hull if the frigate was rocked by a mine blast or engaged in combat. It is their job as damage-control officers, not only to ensure the ship stays afloat, but also to see that as many systems as possible continue to operate, enabling the ship to fight on.

And with mines currently posing the greatest threat to US forces in the Gulf, it is the engineers working around the clock deep within the frigate's engine plant who are most vulnerable.

``Combat [information center] is the brains of the ship - they are the glory boys,'' says gas turbine systems technician Jim Lammey of Pottstown, Pa. ``But we are the heart. They need us to give them power.''

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