Impressions of the voyage Posted by: McQ
on Friday, August 08, 2008
Granted, in terms of time (3 days/3 nights) it wasn't much for duration, but in terms of keeping us busy, it was pretty darn packed.
First impression of course, when you see the ship, is "wow, that's big". It's not an aircraft carrier, but its not that much smaller. We got to the pier, entered through the side loading ramp and walked by "the well". That's where they launch Marine amphib vehicles. It fills up with water and they launch the Amtracks from there. On this cruise it was packed with construction equipment and supplies ready for use on humanitarian missions.
We walked up onto the hanger deck next. The ship carries AV8B Harriers (not on this deployment) V-22 Osprey and both the CH-53 Sea Stallion and UH 60 helicopters. The V-22 wasn't deployed on the ship, but as we headed out to sea, the helicopters joined us (more on that later).
We then went up to the 02 deck where we were staying (12 decks - the numbering system is always how many decks above or below the main deck you are. 02 is two decks above while 2 would be two decks below).
There were 5 bloggers leaving from Norfolk. When we went to the office that was to assign us space, we ended up in troop berthing. No one could put their hands on the list, and this being their last night in port, few hands were on board the ship. So the were going to stick us in berthing. A young seaman named Ellsworth went out of his way to locate and clean up a space for the 4 guys. A female petty officer tried her darndest to find our female blogger (Maggie of BostonMaggie blog) a room, but she ended up staying in berthing. I got a real kick out of Maggie ... she's not a whiner at all, took it with a shrug of the shoulders and said, "hey, that's what I'm here to do, experience life on the ship". What was funny is she was hoping to be in there with all the Navy female ship's crew so she could get the skinny on the ship and found herself instead with the Airforce female contingent.
Anyway we ended up with a fairly nice 4 man room right across the hall from the wardroom (aka, the officer's mess).
Passage ways ("pways") are narrow and lined with a lot of equipment, so if two people meet, one usually stands aside to let the other pass. I think Navy people are where our Olympic scouts should look for hurdlers. As you walk down the pway, there are the oval hatches with a shin-high threshold that you have to step up and over. They call them knee-knockers. Thankfully I only knocked mine once.
The hatches are heavy metal doors that have to be secured after you walk through them. So you walk, open the hatch, step up and over the threshold and close the hatch before proceeding on.
We were amazed at the access we got to all areas of the ship. Our most frequent escort was a sailor named Hawks who was personable, funny, and informative. He knew the ship and got us where we wanted to go. From the bowels of the ship and engineering to the 06 level and flight control as well as the bridge.
We saw flight operations and an UNREP from 'vultures row' which is an outside portion of the 05 deck between flight control and the bridge.
An UNREP, as I learned, is a replenishment while underway. We rendezvoused with the USS Laramie, a supply ship, 6 hours after leaving port and took on fuel. They fired the lines across from the Kearsarge (using vintage but beautiful M14s), hauled the hoses over and topped off with diesel and avgas. Pretty impressive watching those two big ships get within 180 feet of each other and maintain speed and position long enough to refuel.
Like I said, we had access, and we couldn't have been treated any better. Everyone went out of their way to accommodate us. But in terms of internet access they simply weren't ready. They knew they needed more access, but they simply haven't the bandwidth capacity. So it took one of our guys an hour and a half to send an email outside the military system because of the load.
They had installed and were working on what they called the "NGO cafe", which was to have outside internet access separate from the ship. NGO, of course, means Non-Governmental Organization, and was going to be our base for accessing the net. As of noon on Friday, it still wasn't up and running and Chris Albion, one of the bloggers, decided that NGO really stood for "Not Going to Occur".
Back to the wardroom. I found that if I sat in the wardroom with a cup of coffee and waited, just about every officer (not the enlisted guys we wanted to go see) I wanted to talk too would come through there to either eat, get a drink of something or take a break. More on those interviews later.
There were other civilians on board - like two professors from the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey CA. They were there to give the ship's company an idea of the history and culture of the area in which they'd be working.
There were also the NGOs. Project Hope and Operation Smile had reps on board. They were the logistics guys and were severely hampered by the inability to communicate via email.
There were also technical representatives from various companies on board as well. One was waiting on a part for a radar so he could repair it, etc.
I was also struck by the number of females on that ship. BTW, I learned that there is "ship's company" and eveyrone else. And the everyone else is semi-derisively called "riders".
We, of course, were riders (and quite happy to be).
As I mentioned, the ship is huge (800+ feet long, 100+ feet at the beam) and weighs in at about 40,000 tons. But it does roll. Our second day out was beautiful but a little heavier seas than the first and today. So we experienced some rolling. Incredibly at night, it does a great job of putting you right to sleep.
My favorite line of the cruise - happened on the first day. I was walking around the deck as the Kearsarge was leaving port. The entire ship's company and all uniformed "riders" were "manning the rails." On this trip there were US Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, US Public Health Service, Brazil, Canada and the Dutch on the rails.
So as I'm walking around I'm asking the Airforce members, "when you enlisted in the Airforce, did you ever imagine yourself manning the rails on a Navy Amphibious Assault ship?" Everyone of them would give you this shocked smile and answer "no". To a person, however, they were very enthusiastic about the opportunity. They thought it was awesome.
So I wandered by one of the more senior Navy nurses I had met while drinking coffee the night before and I said, "the Airforce folks seem to think this is the neatest thing they've ever done". She kind of peered to her left and her right and then gave me this jaundiced look and said, "I'm sure it is".
"We then went up to the 02 deck where we were staying (12 decks - the numbering system is always how many decks above or below the main deck you are. 02 is two decks above while 2 would be two decks below)."
Just a quick note on the numbering of ship decks. The main deck is the first deck that reaches the entire length of the ship. It is also first deck. The one directly below is 2nd deck, so the deck 2 decks below the main - first - deck is 3rd deck.
As to making fun of the Air Force, not true. The fun is already there, we just point it out.