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Playing rock `n' roll as time goes by

Name: Klare Ellis

Rank: Petty Officer 1st Class

Drums

Age: 36

Home town: Traverse City, Mich.

Job: interior communications electrician

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Name: Brett Cardwell

Rank: Petty Officer 1st Class

Lead vocals

Age: 36

Job: aviation maintenance administration.

Home town: Pond Creek, Okla.

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Name: Sam D'Andrea

Rank: Petty Officer 1st Class

Guitar

Age: 42

Home town: Chicago.

Job: personnel, takes care of people's pay and service records.

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Name: Richard Hawkins

Rank: Petty Officer 1st Class

Bass guitar

Age: 47

Home town: El Paso, Texas

Job: aviation electronics technician, supervising 10 techs.

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Name: Joe Ragonese

Rank: Chief Petty Officer

Guitar

Age: 41

Home town: Sacramento, Calif.

Job: personnel, taking care of service records, pay problems and administering exams.

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ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN—When the flight deck falls silent and all the planes have been put to bed, it's time to rock `n' roll.

In a forgotten storage room on the fourth deck, down a tight passageway, in a cramped hollow carved between boxes and wood crates, five sailors pull out their equipment.

Three electric guitars, two microphones and a drum set.

They call themselves Man Overboard, five older sailors with a love for classic rock. They get together to play three times a week for a couple of hours in one of the few areas on the USS Abraham Lincoln where there are no sleeping quarters nearby. They almost never play for an audience.

"Come on," Sam D'Andrea says, picking up his guitar. "It's getting late. Let's play."

Klare Ellis sits behind an old drum set he bought for $300.

He slaps two drumsticks together high in the air.

One. Two.

And the music begins.

Brett Cardwell, the lead singer, rolls up his sleeves, tugs at his belt, leans into the microphone and sings "Take It Easy" by the Eagles.

Cardwell, 36, grew up in Pond Creek, Okla. "Unless you want to go to college, which I didn't, you either go to work on a farm or learn a trade like fixing tractors, or you join the military," he says.

Cardwell joined the Navy and works in aviation maintenance administration. He likes to play music for the release. "By the end of the night, I feel exuberant," he says.

Richard Hawkins, a 47-year-old aviation electronics technician from El Paso, Texas, with specks of gray in his mustache, stares at the cement floor and strums a bass guitar. Hawkins has been playing the guitar for 42 years. "I like rock and roll," he says. "But I'm a blues kind of guy."

Joe Ragonese, 41, a Chief Petty Officer, is the highest-ranking sailor in the band, although rank means nothing down here. He lunges forward, hunching his shoulders, grinding a cheap old guitar he picked up at a pawn shop for a hundred bucks.

He feels like he's in his 20s again, when he used to play guitar in clubs around Sacramento, Calif. "There were a lot of bad influences," he says. "I felt I needed something to draw me out of that atmosphere."

Behind the drum set, Ellis takes off his blue work shirt. Ellis, 36, was born and raised in Traverse City, Mich. When the Lincoln returns to port, he plans to rent a building where Man Overboard can practice. "Perhaps by then we will be good enough to call it rehearsal," he says.

D'Andrea, 42, of Chicago closes his eyes and plays guitar. He has been in the service for 15 years. A Petty Officer 1st Class, he works in personnel. "I'm one of those pencil-neck geek types," he says.

Maybe, but not when he's behind a mike. He's all Mick Jagger—full of presence and attitude.

He played in a rock band for 12 years before he enlisted. "It's what I do," he says. "It's me. I have a job, but this is a part of me that will never stop. It has to come out."

The Lincoln has been deployed since July, and veteran sailors know there's only one way to survive a long tour at sea: Find a way to pass the time and escape, find a release.

That's why they play.

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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