Thanks to the Navy League, I’ve just returned from a delightful evening aboard the USS Green Bay. I knew the evening was going to be lovely even before I boarded the ship. Although a nasty storm is threatening to hit the Bay Area tomorrow, the drive into the City was exquisite. The air was clear, with a pinkish-blue tint, and the City seemed to glimmer in this pre-storm light. Also, amazingly, there was no traffic. I glided through the City through one green light after another. By the time I arrived at the Pier, I was practically giddy with the excitement that a smooth and beautiful journey engendered.
Getting to the ship took a little bobbing and weaving through security, but I thought the whole thing was cool. The Marines and the Naval officers were extremely polite, and very competent. And though they are working dogs and (Mr. Bookworm assured me) are not cute, I was nevertheless charmed as the bomb-sniffing canines circled my vehicle, making sure I was good to go. When you live the kind of comfortable suburban life I live, there’s definitely a little frisson that goes with this type of extremely polite, efficient, and deadly-serious security.
While you don’t see the USS Green Bay very clearly from the street, you do see it clearly from the parking lot — and it is a very striking ship. It’s brand new (commissioned in January 2009), and it looks like the product of a joint design team from Hollywood and the Lego company:
Isn’t that beautiful?
I won’t insult the ship by trying to describe it in my own decidedly layman’s terms. Here’s what the ship’s own website has to say about this modern marvel of troop transportation:
The USS GREEN BAY will be used to transport and land Marines, their equipment and supplies, by embarked air cushion or conventional landing craft or Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles, augmented by helicopters or vertical take off and landing aircraft. USS GREEN BAY will support amphibious assault, special operations, or expeditionary warfare missions throughout the first half of the 21st Century.
Length 684 feet (208.5 meters)
Beam 105 feet (31.9 meters)
Displacement Approximately 24,900 tons full load
Speed In excess of 22 knots (24.2 mph)
Aircraft Four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters or two MV-22 tilt rotor aircraft may be launched or recovered simultaneously. The ship’s hangar can store 1-2 aircraft.
Armament Two 30 mm Close-in-Guns, for surface threat defense; two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers for air defense
Landing Craft Two LCACs (air cushion) or one LCU (conventional)
EFVs 14 Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles
Power plant Four Colt-Pielstick diesel engines, two shafts, 40,000 Hp
Crew 360 (28 officers, 332 enlisted), three Marines
Troops 699 (66 officers, 633 enlisted); surge to 800 total.
Those dry statistics, though, don’t do justice to what a really beautiful ship it is. Unlike older ships, it has spacious passageways (or, I guess I should say, passageways more spacious than usual), well designed work spaces, and really excellent crew quarters considering space constraints (although I’ll have more to say on that subject), plus a fully equipped, modern hospital. The corridors are filled with street signs from the City of Green Bay, which takes very seriously the fact that a ship was named after it. The Bridge actually took my breath away. It’s large and beautifully laid out, with hardwood floors and glowing computer monitors.
After dining in style on a buffet that offered fresh fruit and vegetables, roast, shrimp, chicken wings, meatballs and cheese plates, Mr. Bookworm and I wandered through the passageways in awe. We had the good luck to stumble across Lieutenant S, who kindly offered us an in-depth tour of the ship, beyond the areas that were open for general viewing. He took us to the Bridge, the Command and Control center (less claustrophobic than the ones on the older ships), the room that oversees all ships functions (I’ve forgotten the name, but it’s the one with the computer systems hooked up to water, sewage, electricity, security, etc.), the upper deck, a random office (just so we could see what one looks like), his own immaculate sleeping quarters, and the Marine quarters (which are not used right now).
The sleeping quarters were especially nice, by naval standards, and Lieutenant S was most appreciative of that fact. He said that new ships are built with an eye to making living quarters more comfortable than they been before. This is sensible. We’re in the 21st Century, and there’s really no need for sailors to sleep in the luxury characteristic of life below decks on an 18th Century British Man O’ War (that bit about 18th Century standards is sarcastic, by the way). Because the ship isn’t full, officers currently have their own quarters, including their own head. In past billets, Lieutenant S has had to share a head with 10-12 people, so having his own space is a real luxury. And even when the ship is fully populated, the head/crew ratio is better than on ships of old. The only thing missing for officers, suggested Mr. Bookworm, is room service.
The Marine transport quarters were something else entirely. The beds are stacked three high, with a passage way about 2.5 feet wide between each stack of beds. I thought they were pretty medieval, but Lieutenant S assured us that they were truly state of the art. Although the top bunk has no head room, the two bottom bunks are configured so that the Marines occupying them can sit up, and even have a little desk before them when they’re in their bunks. The units also have enough storage space (at least in theory) to store each Marine’s gear near his (or her) bunk. Modern quality notwithstanding, the high estimation in which I’ve always held the Marines went up just a little bit more when I saw the conditions under which they travel.
As is always the case when I’m aboard ship, three things impressed me about the men and women serving. The first is how nice all of them look in their uniforms (service dress blue, for this affair). The second is what lovely manners the men and women in the service they have. Now, I know that they’re required to be polite as part of their job, but they do their job well, with grace and courtesy. When I walked down steep ramps or went down steep steps, someone was at hand to give me a hand. And while normally I don’t need help (hey! I’m a martial artist), today I did, since I broke my toe (or maybe two toes) this morning. Even hopped up on Ibuprofin, I was in considerable pain, and changing levels left me unbalanced. Having a nice young man at my side helping out was a real treat.
The third thing that impressed me, and this one is less tangible than how nice Naval people are in both appearance and conduct, is the fact that the Navy has extremely high expectations of the people who serve — and the fact that, for the most part, officers and enlisted live up to those expectations. One of the things that frustrates me so much in ordinary life, especially when it comes to children, is how little we expect of them. Making the transition from a Montessori school to a public elementary school was an object lesson in going from an environment in which children are viewed as intelligent and capable, to one in which they are all averaged out to mediocre and incapable. (Although I must say that our local middle school is extremely demanding.) The Navy, by contrast, demonstrates that people, when called upon to do well and behave responsibly, quite often do precisely that.
I’d like to end this post with an extra thank you to Lieutenant S. He was personable, knowledgeable, humorous, and had real warmth, both towards us and towards the Navy. There was no question we asked for which he didn’t have a comprehensive and intelligible answer. I’m sure I would have enjoyed any tour I received on the ship, but I especially enjoyed the tour he gave.Email This Post To A Friend
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