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Sailor helping evacuate people in East Timor

September 22, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Aboard a 567-foot guided missile cruiser floating in the Timor Sea, a Hagerstown native said Wednesday he misses home very much.

Tony Snyder, 30, is a naval officer serving on the USS Mobile Bay, which is helping evacuate people from East Timor. He was reached Wednesday morning by satellite and telephone in a brief interview.

"We're doing what we can to help other people," he said.

The ship was sent in part to serve as a "lily pad" for helicopters to refuel as they carry refugees to Darwin, Australia. East Timor, half an island about 300 miles north of Australia, has been rocked by recent militia violence.

An international military force supporting a United Nations mission began landing there Monday to restore stability. By Wednesday morning about 3,000 troops were in place, half the planned contingent of 7,500, the Associated Press reported.

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The son of Roy and Jessie Snyder joined the U.S. Navy after graduating from North Hagerstown High School in 1986. He went to Pensacola, Fla., and was trained in cryptography, a code-breaking science used for intelligence gathering.

Petty Officer 1st Class Snyder was not allowed to discuss his duties, but he spoke of the relief effort. The Navy provides planning and logistics support for the peace-keeping mission, he said. It helps deliver food and medical supplies.

"It's really wonderful," he said. The ship was enroute from Yokosuka, Japan to exercises in eastern Australia Sunday when it was diverted.

When the Mobile Bay arrived in Darwin, Synder and his fellow sailors helped set up tents for the displaced East Timorese.

"They seem really upbeat about it," he said. "They are very polite."

Chaos erupted after a majority of East Timor's residents voted in an Aug. 30 referendum to secede from Indonesia after years of civil war.

Hundreds of East Timorese are believed to have been murdered by groups opposing independence and widespread looting has been reported. More than 200,000 people have reportedly fled, some hiding in the hills and many leaving the country.

The multinational U.N. force is led by Australia but the United States and a dozen other countries are helping.

Snyder has been stationed on the Mobile Bay for 14 months. During his two-year tour of duty, he has seen a lot of the Pacific, including Korea and Hong Kong. He keeps in touch with family through e-mail and telephone calls, he said.

He hasn't been home since last summer, when he was stationed in Washington and able to visit. Although he misses home, there is a lot to see during port visits, such as crocodiles in Australia.

Snyder's pride in the Navy was obvious when he said, "we're the best out here."

He was, however, hoping for some entertainment. "We could use a USO ship," he said.

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