Former Viking now fighting pirates | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Former Viking now fighting pirates

Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Following a six-month stint battling Somali pirates off the east coast of Africa with the U.S. Navy, a 2007 South Tahoe High School graduate is heading home.

Eric Bergsohn, 20, and the USS Mahan are expected to be back at their home port in Norfolk, Va., within a matter of days.

On a phone call from somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, Bergsohn said his first deployment has reaffirmed his decision to join the Navy about a year and a half ago.

“This is a good place for me right now,” Bergsohn said.

But the former ROTC cadet commanding officer also said the voyage has been a transformational one.

Bergsohn said he basically gave up on school during his last year at South Tahoe High, but the Navy gave him a “new appreciation for education.”

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“Senior year, I just didn’t care about going to college or not,” Bergsohn said. “I just gave up a little bit. It’s something I shouldn’t have done.”

Bergsohn said he intends to make his current job as a cryptologic technician collector a career, but added that he hopes to start taking online college classes this spring.

Cryptologic technician collectors analyze and report on communication signals using a variety of electronic equipment.

The political science and computer science classes he plans to focus on aren’t a requirement for Bergsohn to reach his career goals, but “it just helps that much more,” he said.

Despite an obvious passion for his work, Bergsohn said there are facets of the U.S. he especially misses while at sea, like seeing the familiar faces of friends or the mountains of Virginia.

“When you’re on a ship, you take for granted what’s back in the U.S.,” Bergsohn said. “There’s a lot there that you don’t see anywhere else.”

And there is one aspect of life us landlubbers take for granted that Bergsohn might be looking forward to more than anything upon his return to dry ground.

“I’m very excited to not be moving back and forth,” Bergsohn said. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Bergsohn said he hopes to return to the South Shore around Christmas time to visit his mom, dad, brother and sister.

Although Bergsohn was limited in what he could say regarding the his role on the Mahan, sailors aboard the ship have told the Associated Press they have been using unmanned drones to spot potential pirate mother ships.

For years, the U.S. has used drones to track potential terrorists among Somalia’s warlords, but the Navy said more and more of the planes are now being used to fight piracy.

The drones can fly more than 3,000 feet above sea level and relay pictures detailed enough to recognize the flags flown on fishing boats that Somalis use to avoid detection.

The drones take still photos and videos that are instantly relayed to the American ships. The Americans can then send this material to other nations in the international anti-piracy coalition that may have ships near the suspicious vessel. Countries as diverse as India, France, China and Russia have sent ships to help patrol the Gulf of Aden.

“We have a unique capability in which we have an (unmanned air vehicle) that helps us detect the pirates and makes it hard for them to hide,” USS Mahan Capt. Stephen Murphy said, pointing to the images the drone relayed to the bridge of the destroyer.

“The UAV … can stay airborne all day and cover thousands of miles of the ocean and be able to spot pirates,” he told an Associated Press reporter during a five-day visit to the ship last week.

Somali pirates have been preying on passing shipping for years, but September’s capture of a Ukrainian ship loaded with arms helped focus international attention on the problem.

Pirates attacked more than 100 ships last year with a success rate of nearly 50 percent.

The number of attacks has remained steady following an influx of warships into the Gulf of Aden late last year, but their success rate has fallen to below 30 percent.

But analysts say the problem will not be solved until a stable government is established in war-ravaged Somalia. The country has not had one since 1991, and the multimillion dollar ransoms are a strong lure in a country where nearly half the population is dependent on aid.

The embattled U.N.-backed government is fighting a strengthening Islamic insurgency that the U.S. State Department says has links to al-Qaida.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.