Fleet Week in San Francisco

Blue AngelsFleet Week is almost upon us here in San Francisco.  As many of you know, it’s one of my favorite times of year.  But Fleet Week isn’t just about the civilians in San Francisco; it’s also about the sailors and Marines who visit our city.  If you’d like to make the event more fun for them, consider donating to a GoFundMe campaign to buy San Francisco’s seafaring guests a good hamburger while they’re ashore.

My past Fleet Week posts in chronological order:

A great day by the Bay

A lovely day on the Bay

A delightful evening aboard the USS Green Bay

What’s not to like about the Blue Angels?

A short, but very sweet, visit to the USS Pinckney

“The best job in the world”

The USS Carl Vinson rocks

The girl’s guide to visiting the USS Makin Island

The USS America commissioning ceremony

I was fortunate yesterday to attend the USS America commissioning ceremony (along with several thousand other guests). It was a wonderful experience. Indeed, when I ran into a friend of mine who is a retired admiral, and asked him if this wasn’t just old hat for him, he replied that it was exciting for him too. Ships don’t get commissioned that often, and there’s seldom a guarantee that one will be in the neighborhood when it happens.

Here’s the USS America as we first saw her, while walking to the pier:

USS America on October 11, 2014, the day of her commissioning

USS America on October 11, 2014, the day of her commissioning

The event can be broken down into four parts, with the first two being rather dull, and the second two being wonderful. Part 1 was simply getting in and getting seated. We were among the more than 9,000 people who attended the ceremony, so the process took about an hour. We showed our tickets, passed through security, found our seats, and waited.

Part 2 was speeches. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee gave a happy, enthusiastic speech that managed to reduce the US Navy to the role of San Francisco guardian in the event of an earthquake. I couldn’t fault him for missing the whole bit about defending the nation and fighting wars. He’s a San Francisco politician, after all, and he was just so gosh-darned radiantly happy. Although I didn’t take notes, the other speakers were, I believe, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (his speech was okay); Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley (a speech that started off political, and then came from the heart); Commander of the Pacific Fleet Adm. Harry Harris (a fun, enthusiastic, good ol’ boy speech); Marine Lt. General David Berger (a lively, interesting speaker); an executive from Huntington Ingalls Industries which built the ship (I think it was Mike Peters, who gave a surprisingly heartfelt, moving speech); and, of course, Capt. Robert A. Hall Jr. himself, who was so very proud of his ship, his crew, his family, his Navy, his country, and his God.

Part 3 was the magic part. Once the ship was duly commissioned, the command came down: “Man the ship and bring her to life.” Behind us, the Sailors and Marines who had stood so still throughout the speech suddenly started moving. One after the other, they ran down the center aisle towards the ship. Since I’m short, I didn’t try to film that, since I got only glimpses of them: very young, more mature, male, female, white, Asian, Hispanic, black . . . all of them running purposefully to the USS America.

Suddenly, a cry went up from the crowd, and I looked towards the ship. This is what I saw:

Here’s a primitive panorama I captured (click to enlarge):

The crew mans the port side of the USS America, having brought the ship to life at its commissioning.

The crew mans the port side of the USS America, having brought the ship to life at its commissioning.

The whole thing was magical as the crew, entering at the ship’s lowest level, poured out on top and arrayed themselves along the ship’s port side, all standing at attention. Next (and I didn’t record this), the radar started turning, the flags were raised, the horns and the whistles sounded and, as the pièce de résistance, two Ospreys zoomed overhead. (This actually wasn’t quite as exciting for me, because the day before, they’d been circling over our house for about an hour, which was awesome, but left me a little immune to their charms.)

As for Part 4, that was just plain fun, as we got to be among the first in San Francisco to tour the ship’s flight deck.  Here’s a lovely iconic photo for you:

IMG_3192 (2)

And of course, since this is a 21st century, here’s your assurance that the ship is as green as green can be. (I didn’t hear anyone assure me that a green ship is a safer ship or a better fighting ship, but I might have missed that part.)

USS America - Energy Warrior

(Sorry for the brevity of this post but, owing to family demands, it’s taken me 36 hours to put together even this abbreviated offering.)

Navy responds to sequester by torturing American people (or, put another way, it cancels Blue Angels shows)

Blue Angels

(I wrote this for Mr. Conservative, but it’s pure Bookworm in word and thought, so I’m republishing it here.  Frankly, I’m spitting mad, because regular readers know exactly how much I love Fleet Week.)

Sequester or not, there always seems to be money for the Obamas to live the lush life. As for the rest of us, the Navy announced today that the Navy’s Blue Angels, which delight hundreds of thousands of people every year, and which bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the communities in which they perform, have been grounded.

The official announcement is effective immediately, cancelling all performances currently scheduled between now and December. The squadron will continue to train, but the shows are over for the time being:

The Navy has cancelled the remaining 2013 performances of its Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels. The Squadron will continue to train to maintain flying proficiency until further notice at its home station in Pensacola. Recognizing budget realities, current Defense policy states that outreach events can only be supported with local assets at no cost to the government.

Perhaps it’s reasonable to ground the Blues; but more likely it’s not. After all, as Sen. Coburn revealed in a recent study about wasteful spending in the military, the military spends a lot of money on touchy-feely or green programs that have nothing to do with military preparedness or with connecting ordinary Americans to their military, and that have everything to do with PC pandering to Beltway Progressive sensibilities. These programs include duplicative research programs, ineffective bomb detectors made by families with nepotistic ties to agency brass, creating coffee break apps, teaching grill safety, etc. Indeed, the military is still contemplating abandoning $36 billion worth of military hardware in Afghanistan.

This type of administrative waste (with has nothing to do with the quality of the men and women who serve), puts the military right in line with a federal government that uses taxpayer dollars to fund studies about alcoholic lesbians, makes it impossible to fire bad workers, and generally wastes your money.

What’s most like is that the point of the Blues’ grounding is to ignore the waste in favor of making the taxpayers suffer. How else can the government force people to stop their relentless (and reasonable) demand that the government act responsibly with other people’s money? The Pentagon – which is under Obama administration control – is letting the people know that any cuts to the government won’t improve efficiency, but will simply make taxpayers miserable. Cancelling the Blue Angels show is a special kind of misery, because it not only disappoints the Blues’ legion of fans, it also causes real economic hurt to the cities that host the show. Shows routinely draw in cities hundreds of thousands of fans who spend real money – in hotels, in restaurants, and in stores.

And just to keep things in perspective, keep in mind that tonight the White House is hosting yet another exclusive party. According to the White House schedule, Michelle and Obama are hosting a concert “celebrating Memphis Soul.” The President will speak. The guests include performers who are not known for Memphis Soul, such as Justin Timberlake, Cyndi Lauper, and Queen Latifah, not to mention Al Green, Ben Harper, Sam Moore, and others. The White House refuses to release details that will help calculate what this little party will cost the taxpayers. One thing is for sure – the money spent will not confer any benefit on the communities that will be harmed when the Blue Angels stop flying.

The girl’s guide to visiting the USS Makin Island

Courtesy of the Navy League, today I boarded the USS Makin Island as an official ship’s greeter.  My visit was a bit more fraught than past experiences have been, so I thought I’d walk you through the girl’s guide to visiting the USS Makin Island, starting with pre-visit preparations:

  1. Review boarding instructions at last-minute and realize that I’m supposed to wear “slacks.”  Who the heck has slacks?  I live in jeans, either blue or black.  Burrow through closet and discover antique pair of bland brown slacks.
  2. Breath sigh of relief that slacks still zip.  I vow not to do any inhaling for the rest of the day, lest the slacks become rebellious.
  3. New problem:  After a harried search for the sole, and ancient, pair of brown shoes I own, I find that they are scratched and dirty.  This is bad.  Worse is that I have no shoe polish.  A frantic hunt for something oily to help liven up the leather yields only Tea Tree oil.  Did you know that if you polish your shoes with Tea Tree oil you go around the rest of the day smelling like disinfectant?  I know that now.
  4. Leave house in order to arrive at Pier 80 (in the southern-most part of the City) by 2:30, since the last, best word is that I should be there at 3:00.  I figure a half-hour of wiggle room is a good thing.
  5. Halfway to Pier 80, I get a timely telephone call telling me that the USS Makin Island is actually going to be at Pier 30/32.  Under these circumstances, San Francisco’s maze of one way streets becomes the enemy.
  6. Arrive at Pier 30/32 at 2:30, blithely assuming that I’ll be on board by 3:00.  Hah!  But more on that later.
  7. Learn that, because of snafu, while I am approved for entry onto the pier, my car is not.  I begin the hunt for San Francisco street parking.  Rather to my surprise, I find a spot only a block away, a distance even my dodgy knee can tolerate.  I spend a few minutes struggling with the new-fangled ticket machine, which charges me a hefty $12 for four hours of street parking.  Four hours should be enough, right?
  8. Arrive at pier, and saunter self-consciously across a vast parking lot and staging area, which is empty but for a handful of people who clearly belong there, including five spit-and-polished Marines.   Here’s a picture of that vast space:

  9. With feigned coolness, because I’m neurotically certain that everyone there is staring at me, I casually seat myself on one of the comfortable-looking, bright orange security barriers.
  10. Learn the hard way, when my weight compresses the barrier on which I’ve seated myself, that said barriers are filled with water.
  11. Come to terms with the unpleasant realization that an objective observer, unacquainted with the facts, could reasonably conclude that I wet my pants.
  12. Check out spit-and-polished Marines to see whether they noticed that I’m suddenly looking remarkably foolish, not to mention incontinent.  Happily they appear oblivious — or perhaps they’re just too polite to point and laugh.
  13. Try to air-dry my butt as discretely as possible.  This involves my skulking along the parking lot with my back to the cars, trying to get the benefit of the stiff breeze blowing across the pier.  I am suddenly very grateful that the Navy is running late.
  14. Begin casting longing glances at the Porta Potties. Why the heck are they in such an exposed location?  Think dry thoughts (which is hard to do with wet pants).
  15. Due to extremely brisk breeze, my pants finally begin to dry.  I also give thanks for very expensive all-weather hair style.
  16. Begin to wonder if the thrill of welcoming an amphibious assault vessel is worth it. I fight urge to beat strategic retreat.  I remind myself that dry pants are a good omen and, feeling courageous now that my butt is dry, I slink off to the Porta Potties.
  17. The intelligent, knowledgeable half of the Navy League greeting committee arrives.  Thank God!!  Then I get the bad news:  I arrived an hour early for a ship that is going to be at least an hour late.  Oh, and I’m the point man for the Navy League presentation.  Have I ever mentioned that I’m terrified of public speaking?  I’m not shy.  I can show up to a party knowing no one and still have fun.  It’s having all those eyes looking at you (see items 9 and 10, above).  This blind panic is made worse by knowing that those staring are (a) mostly male and (b) mostly younger than I.  When I was 25, this would have been cool; now that I’m . . . ahem . . . my current age, it’s just nerve-wracking.
  18. Go to car to regroup.  I try to freshen up, only to realize that I’ve forgotten to bring lipstick.  This girl doesn’t feel fully dressed without lipstick, but I focus on the fact that I no longer look as if I’ve wet my pants.  I’m ahead of my own curve.  With lunch a distant memory, and no eateries nearby, I eat a stale power bar that my son left in the car donkey’s years ago.
  19. Return to pier, which is filling up.  The USS Makin Island appears.  It is magnificent:
  20. Attach myself like a limpet to my wonderful Navy League point man who patiently listens to me as I nervously babble.  I know I should muzzle myself, but I’ve got so much adrenalin pumping through me at the thought of public speaking that nothing is going to stop my mouth from moving.
  21. Finally!  Only an hour and a half after I first report for “greeting duty,” we board the ship.  Dozens of ridiculously handsome/beautiful, polite, incredibly young people, all of whom look spiffy in their uniforms, are everywhere.  Is it really possible that they’re all staring at me?  Remind myself I am no longer 13, and that it’s not all about me.
  22. One of said spiffy young people leads us to the wardroom, where we receive a very polite welcome and are offered food and drink.  I recoil at the thought of food, but demand water like a starving man in the desert.
  23. Briefing commences.  The Captain welcomes all of his visitors aboard.  I’m shocked.  How can someone be so fresh and young, and have so much responsibility?  I later check out the ship’s web page and learn that Captain Pringle isn’t that much younger than I am — he just looks a whole lot better.
  24. Fortunately, I’m not the first speaker.  Before I speak, representatives from the Fleet Week board, the San Francisco Police Department, and the NCIS speak.  They are all composed and quite interesting.  This worries me.
  25. Oh, my God!  It’s my turn.  There must be about — oh my! — 50 (or could it actually be 3,000?) people sitting there waiting to hear me speak.  I introduce myself and my fellow Navy Leaguer, and am more grateful than I can say that I remember our names.  I’ve been known to forget my own name in public speaking settings.
  26. I subscribe to the theory that, if you’re obviously at a disadvantage and the people you’re with aren’t your enemy, you should throw yourself at their mercy.  I therefore apologize in advance for a few things: (a) I’m shaking with nerves; (b) I’m a vast chasm of civilian ignorance; (c) I’ll be reading from a prepared script; and (d) I don’t have my reading glasses, so I can’t see the prepared script.  I am off to a rip-roaring start here.
  27. Things are going well.  I’m making it through the list of goodies that the Navy League is providing for our maritime guests, and I’m only stuttering a little bit.  I get cocky.  When I come to the part about tours up in Wine Country, I ad lib:  “This is up in the Sonoma/Napa area, north of San Francisco.  It’s really beautiful up there and wine tours are fun.  Just be sure not to drink or drive.”
  28. Did I just do that?  Did I tell a room full of Naval and Marine officers not to drink and drive?  Could I have been more disrespectful to them?  I don’t know if recovery is possible, but I try:  “I can say that, because I’m a mother.”  Okay, just kill me now.
  29. I finally wrap up my mercifully brief presentation with only minimal hyperventilation and no tears.  Showing that they truly are officers and gentlemen/gentlewomen, several of the briefing attendees come up to me afterwards and tell me that I did a fine job.  What nice people these are!
  30. Return to my car three hours and fifty-seven minutes after I first arrived.  Hurray!  I didn’t get a parking ticket.  I go home giddy with excitement.  Mission accomplished!

Despite my own neurosis, I had a wonderful time.  As I told the assembled officers, the USS Makin Island is a lovely ship, and I was truly honored to be on board.  If you’re in or near San Francisco this weekend, don’t let the crowds deter you.  As you can see from the Fleet Week website, there are so many things to do and see, and it’s your chance to thank personally the men and women who serve our country.

The media again attacks the military

I came of age in the post-Vietnam era.  Let me amend that:  I came of age in San Francisco in the post-Vietnam era.  Although Fleet Week, which started in the City about 20+ years ago has done a lot to turn things around, San Francisco has not been a military friendly city, and most definitely was not so in the decade after Vietnam.  Every institution was hostile to the military.  I grew up knowing, probably from the San Francisco Comical, with increasingly large dollops of help from ABC, NBC and CBS, that military vets were deranged.

This was my first run-in with cognitive dissonance.  You see, I knew a ton of military vets.  The difference was that they weren’t Vietnam Vets but were, instead, WWII and Israeli War Vets.  And they weren’t deranged.  At all.  Many of them were sad men, who had seen too much, but they were all highly functional men who married, raised children, held jobs, and helped out a lot around the house.  My parents explained to me that Vietnam Vets were deranged because they were all drug addicts, except that didn’t make sense either.  The drug addicts I knew (and I was in San Francisco and at Berkeley) weren’t the vets; instead, they were the ones that had stayed behind.

Hmmm.  The first step in crossing the Rubicon was figuring out that the media has the military in its cross hairs.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The latest casualty of the media’s war on the military is living Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer.  Although the McClatchy news organization readily concedes that he acted with unparalleled bravery, it’s making a big push to say he didn’t really act with that much bravery.  This story stinks for a few reasons.  First, it leaves a strong impression that Meyer lied, although a careful textual reading shows that it’s really claiming that the Marine Corps itself exaggerated.  The Marines shouldn’t have exaggerated, but this story still should have been left alone.  Why?  Because as Jack Cashill explains, this kind of attack on an extraordinarily brave young man manages to highlight what an absymal job the media is doing when it comes to its main job — namely, keeping the public informed about its leaders and keeping politicians honest.

Think about it:  this is a media that tries to destroy the reputation of one indubitably brave, decent man, while it kept us in the dark in 2007 and 2008 about Obama’s entire history and, even now, is doing its best to bury such interesting stories as Fast and Furious (which the blogosphere cares about, but the MSM has ignored almost entirely) or Solyndra (ditto).

I shouldn’t really be so surprised or angry, I guess.  This disdain for and hostility towards the military is reflexive and pervasive in our media.  But I can’t help it.  It still hacks me off.

(P.S.  I do suggest, though, that military types don’t do things like this.  It’s one thing to do your job and get savaged by idiots.  It’s another thing to hand them red meat on a silver platter.)

Honoring our Seafaring Services *UPDATED*

In honor of Fleet Week (which starts Saturday in San Francisco), I have three Navy/Marine related stories to relate and I want to promote a few of my favorite Navy related blogs.

Story 1:

My daughter has started a new school and is making new friends.  The other day, I met the Mom of one of these new friends.  (I’m happy to say that both mother and daughter are nice gals.)

“Is your daughter an only child?” I asked.  (Go ahead, say it:  I’m nosy.)

“No,” she said, “I have a son, too.”  Then, with the usual apologetic look one sees in Marin, she added “He’s joining the Navy next week.”

Having said that, the Mom cringed slightly, clearly expecting me to launch into a shocked lecture about the immorality of supporting our armed forces, especially with the blood of our young men.

“Wait!  Wait!  I’ve got to show you something,” I mumbled as I head to the stack of magazines on the kitchen counter.  Ruffling through papers for a minute revealed what I was looking for:  SeaPower magazine, which comes as part of my Navy League membership.  I handed it to her, along with a statement of the obvious.  “We’re big fans of the Navy in this house.”

Needless to say, she was delighted.  We talked about boys becoming men in the military.  She agreed.  Being a mom, she’s a little worried about her 21 year old son (he’ll always be her baby) going into the Navy.  Still, she realizes that her son needs a place to grow up and become a man — and our culture isn’t that place.  We currently train boys to be perpetual adolescents with feminine emotional traits, rather than encouraging the best aspects of manliness (bravery, loyalty, honor, camaraderie, etc.).

I think the push to become a manly man, in the best sense of the word, applies with special force in their case, because she’s a single Mom living in a low-income, all-black community.  Young men coming out of that community do not necessarily fare well in life.  Her son apparently realized that sad fact himself, since it was he who wanted to go into the military. After a couple of years at the local community college, he was lost and felt he needed something more meaningful.

When the Mom left, she thanked me profusely. “I feel so much happier now about his decision.”

Story 2:

At the local dojo a few months ago, I asked one of my Mom friends (a second degree blackbelt, incidentally), what her son (also a second degree blackbelt) was going to do with himself during the summer. Her face got that familiar Marin grimace.  She ducked her head and spoke softly.  “You hadn’t heard? He’s enlisted in the Marines.” Then came the inevitable pause, as she readied herself to be berated (or to get a saccharine and insincere, “Well, that’s nice.”).

“Oh, my gosh! That’s so cool. Wait I minute, I’ve got something to show you.” I dug frantically through my purse and — yes, there it was! — dragged out my Navy League coin. She blinked, startled. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Wow!  That’s wonderful.” she said. “I have to admit that this was a surprise to us. He came home one day and said ‘I’ve spent two years at community college, and I don’t know what to do with myself there.’ So he joined the Marines.”

My friend, who I assume is the usual Marine liberal then added something interesting:  “You know, I’ve been thinking about this. We should have our best and brightest defending us.  I think this will be a good thing.”

That was at the beginning of the summer.  A little while ago, the young man graduated from Marine Boot Camp, down at Camp Pendleton.  His mom sent me a photo of a young man absolutely radiating pride in himself and his uniform.  Mom was also deeply impressed by the graduation ceremony, which she said everyone should see.

Story 3:

My life is carpools.  Yesterday, I had in my car a darling 13 year old whom I’ve known since he was a little boy.  I stand very high in his estimation.  It’s not my charm, beauty or intelligence.  It’s the fact that he learned, last year, that I have friends in the Navy, including an admiral.  (Actually, I can boast about several admirals, since some of them might actually recognize me at a party if they ran into me.)  I am now persona grata, since this young man has as his life’s ambition entry into the Naval academy, followed by a career as a SEAL.

This boy has been thinking about BIG ISSUES.  “This is a really good time to get into the military, because I believe that we’re going to be in a very big war soon.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“The way I see it,” he answered, “a few years ago, the news was filled with stories about the war.  Now, though, there are no stories.  I think they’re hiding something big.”

He was unimpressed with my suggestion that the media might have been trying to embarrass George Bush, whom they didn’t like, while trying to spare Barack Obama, whom they do like, the same embarrassment.  “No, I think there’s something big.”  He’s not quite sure who the enemy will be, but he knows there’s one out there.

Wrap-up to the above stories:

I think I should start a support group in Marin for those moms whose sons are entering the military.  The message would be, we don’t all hate you and we think your sons are doing a good thing!

And now the links

There are, as you all know, myriad mil blogs out there, all of which are a testament to the high caliber of men and women who serve in our military.  Since this is Navy/Marine Day at Bookworm Room, I’m just going to list my four favorite Seafaring military (and, perhaps, retired military) blogs:

The Mellow Jihadi
CDR Salamander
Neptunus Lex
Castra Praetoria

If you know of Navy/Marine/Coast Guard/Merchant Marine blogs that deserve recognition, let me know.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

UPDATE:  I’ll start adding reader suggestions here as they come in.

Information Dissemination

Fleet Week, 2010

Three more weeks to my favorite week of the year — Fleet Week.  Yay!  Up until a few years ago, Fleet Week was fun.  Now, thanks to the Navy League, Fleet Week stands out as a time when I get to visit a world that is not only completely different from mind, but is also one that I admire a great deal.

I’ve touted the Navy League at this blog before, and I’ll do it again right now.  It is an exemplary organization that, in its own words, is “dedicated to nonpartisan, enhanced public understanding of the missions and challenges facing today’s Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine, as well as advocating for the well-being of the men and women of each service.”  In a time of war, this mission cannot be emphasized enough.  Americans at every level, whether in a Marin County living room or a Washington, D.C., Senate office, should have an “enhanced . . . understanding of the missions and challenges” our sea faring forces face.

I want to tell you all a nice Navy story.  Many, many years ago, when I was in middle school, I had a friend.  A very nice friend.  At an age when kids are often abrasive and unkind, he was sweet.  He also belonged at that time to a youth group that had an outstanding reputation.  That’s what I always remembered about him:  nice and that youth group membership.

Although we went to the same high school, the school was big enough that we actually lost touch with each other.  We’d see each other in the halls, of course, but our contact stopped with a friendly “hello” in passing.  I was so disconnected from him that I didn’t realize that, when he graduated, he went on to Annapolis.  That was a long, long time ago.

Fast forward to last month, when I’m having dinner with another high school friend who has enjoyed a long and successful military career.  As part of our “where are they now” discussion, he told me that my nice youth group friend was now an Admiral.  Wow!  I immediately looked the Admiral up on facebook.  He remembered me and we reconnected in a distant, facebook kind of way.

Did I mention that my son is part of that same youth group with the outstanding reputation?  The problem is that my son is not happy in the youth group — something that saddens me.  You see, it’s the type of organization that teaches unique skills and offers unique opportunities.  Drop out now, and there’s no going back.  The skills and opportunities are gone forever.  My husband and I tried reasoning with the boy and cajoling, but he was adamant — he was going to quit.

I had a brain storm:  “Would it make a difference to you if an Admiral told you the organization was a worthwhile experience?”  “Yes, it might.”

So I contacted the Admiral.  Despite not having seen him in more than thirty years, despite having “friended” him only a few weeks before, I had the chutzpah to ask the Admiral for an email telling my son to stay with his youth group.

The Admiral exceeded my expectations.  He wrote my son an email; he telephoned my son and spoke to him for a half hour; and he followed that up with a handwritten note, on official letterhead, and included his own coin in the letter.  My son was deeply impressed.  I was too.

My friend was always a nice person, but I have to believe that the training and discipline he got in the Navy enhanced those qualities — so much so that, for the child of a friend he hadn’t seen in 30+ years, he was willing to make this effort, and take that time, to help out.

Join the Navy League.  Help support good people.  And if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, have a wonderful Fleet Week experience.

And just for fun, Irving Berlin’s “How About A Cheer for the Navy,” from WWII:

A lovely day on the Bay

Courtesy of the Navy League, we spent several hours yesterday enjoying the hospitality of the crew of the USCG Cutter Pike, an 87′ Marine Protector Class Coastal Patrol Boat.  In other words, we spent the afternoon on an active duty patrol boat.  Rather than a chronogical recitation of a day that was basically very relaxed (although soooo cold), I’ll just give my impression of a few things:

The men and women in our Navy and Coast Guard are hardy people.  Did I mention that it’s cold out there?  Really cold.  I was bundled up, which was a good thing, because my tendency to sea sickness kept me on the deck the whole time (and this was despite having taken pills to help out).  Did I mention I was bundled up?  I was.  Heavily.  And I was still cold.  And meanwhile, members of the crew hung out on the deck in their shirt sleeves.  Only when I’d veered into freezing territory did some of them put on jackets.  I felt old and wuss-ish next to these vigorous young people.

The San Francisco Bay must be one of the most beautiful waterways in the world.  The Pike’s mandate yesterday was to keep ships and boats out of the “forbidden zone” — namely, the corridor into which ships are not allowed to travel when there are air shows going on over the Bay.  Up and down the Pike went, politely moving boats aside if they crossed that line.  I stayed on the port side of the ship.  When it went up, I admired the beautiful San Francisco skyline.  When it went down, I gazed at the wonders of Alcatraz Island.  All around us were bobbing sail boats.  There was an almost dream-like quality to the scenary around us, as if someone had written it for a book, and then summoned it into being.

People in the American military like their jobs.  Yes, I know that not all of them do, but I keep meeting people, active and retired, who think the military is a wonderful life.  In this they contrast strongly with the lawyers I meet, few of whom claim to like what they do.  (And yes, that could be a sophisticated, self-denigrating pose for some, but I happen to know from a lot of them that it’s not.)  The crew members approached their work with good cheer, an attitude that may have been boosted by the presence of a USCG RADM on board.  I got the feeling, though, that they feel as if their job is interesting and worthwhile.  I also spoke to two retired Navy people (one male, one female) and a retired Marine gal, and all three waxed lyrical about the pleasures of their time in the service.  The Navy people were career; the Marine gal was a short haul.  Each felt their time was worthwhile.

It’s disappointing when the Blues don’t fly.  Yup, you heard right.  After all that cake, we managed to miss the icing.  The fog was sufficiently think that it wasn’t safe for them to perform.  They made the right decision, of course, since safety must always come first when recreational flying is at issue, but I was still sorry to miss the soaring excitement of the show — especially when we were positioned to be right under them as they flew by.  C’est la vie.  We’ll catch them next year and, after all, this year we got to meet them face to face, which was its own pleasure.

And my last thought is that, when you get that cold, you stay cold.  It took me hours to feel as if I’d warmed up to my core again.  Did I mention that America’s seafaring troops are harding people?

A great day by the Bay

I woke the family up bright and early today for a very special adventure.  Courtesy of the Navy League, we headed over to Pier 30/32 in San Francisco to be part of a contingent of official ship’s greeters for the Bonhomme Richard.

If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because the Bonhomme Richard is the third ship in the US Navy to bear this name, and it’s a very honorable lineage.  The first Bonhomme Richard was one of the first ships commissioned during the Revolutionary War, and it was the ship on which Capt. John Paul Jones sailed (and fought) during the Battle against HMS Serapis.  From the Bonhomme Richard‘s own website, here is the story of that exciting battle:

On June 19, 1779, Jones sailed BONHOMME RICHARD from L’ Orient, France accompanied by ALLIANCE, PALLAS, VEGEANCE, and CERF. Their mission: to escort troop transports and merchant vessels under convoy to Bordeaux, France and cruise against the British in the Bay of Biscay. Forced to return to port for repairs, Jones’ squadron sailed again August 14, 1779. Going northwest around the British Isles into the North Sea and down the eastern seaboard of Great Britain, the squadron swiftly took 16 merchant vessels as prizes. On the evening of September 23, 1779, they encountered the Baltic Fleet of 41 near the English shore of Flamborough Head. Sailing for England, the Fleet was under convoy of the newly built frigate HMS SERAPIS (50 guns) and the small sloop COUNTESS OF SCARBOROUGH (20 GUNS).

Before the British fleet could respond, BONHOMME RICHARD lashed out at SERAPIS igniting a bitter struggle that would last the entire night. Early in the battle, the guns of Jones’ main battery exploded, temporarily disabling his ship. Under gunned, Jones’ relied on decisive naval strategies and the might of his crew to out-fight the more powerful SERAPIS. To offset the SERAPIS’ speed, Jones lashed his flagship alongside and continued the fight long after his subordinates regarded the situation as hopeless.

Burning, sinking, and scattered with the dead and wounded, BONHOMME RICHARD lit up the darkness with a constant barrage. Jones struggled to keep his vessel afloat and, in one instance, an overwhelming number of prisoners in hold threatened to rush the deck to save from drowning. Jones defied all odds and continued the fight against Captain Pearson’s SERAPIS.

In the final hour, BONHOMME RICHARD’S mast was hit above the top-sail. Along with her Colors, a large section of the mast came crashing to the deck near Jones, feet. In response to the downfallen colors, SERAPIS called out, “Have you struck your Colors?” Resoundingly, John Paul Jones exclaimed, “Struck Sir? I have not yet begun to fight!” And fight they did. With newfound will, his crew delivered decisive blows from all sides and aloft. Jones’ sent 40 Marines and Sailors into the rigging with grenades and muskets.

Decimated, SEPARIS could not avoid defeat and at 2230 she struck her Colors. Victorious, John Paul Jones commandeered SERAPIS and sailed her to Holland for repairs. Sadly, BONHOMME RICHARD sank at 1100 on September 24, 1779, never to rise from her watery grave. This epic battle was the American Navy’s first-ever defeat of an English ship in English waters! Rallying colonial hope for freedom, Jones’ victory established him to many as “The Father of the American Navy.”

Of such true stories are legends made.

In its current incarnation, the Bonhomme Richard is much less likely to be engaged in combat, since it is an Amphibious Assault Ship.  Again, let me have the ship’s own website explain:

USS BONHOMME RICHARD (LHD-6) is an Amphibious Assault Ship. The primary mission of our ship is to embark, deploy and land elements of a Marine landing force in amphibious assault operations by helicopter, landing craft, amphibious vehicle or any combination of these means.

BONHOMME RICHARD was uniquely designed to support assault from the sea against defended positions ashore. She is able to sail in harm’sway and provide a rapid buildup of combat power ashore in the face of opposition. The United States maintains the largest and most capable amphibious force in the world. The Wasp-class are the largest amphibious ships in the world.

As you can imagine from reading the above mission statement, the ship is huge.  It weighs in at 40,500 tons (which is measured by displacement), stands as tall as a 13 story building, and is 844 feet long.  When fully loaded, it can carry 2,000 Marines (in addition to its own crew), 40 planes and helicopters, and I lost track of the number of landing craft and amphibious vehicles it can carry too.

Loading a ship of this size and with this purpose is not a higgledy-piggledy job, with things packed in however they fit.  Instead, everything needs to be loaded in reverse order, so that, at the ship’s ultimate destination, the things the Marines will need first can be offloaded first.  That sounds like a hard enough logistical challenge, but it’s frequently made even more difficult by the fact that plans change as the ship is being loaded or after it already has been loaded.  To anyone who has ever struggled to pack the family car for vacation, you can only imagine magnitude of the Bonhomme Richard‘s task.

So, there you have the ship, in all its glory.  And what about Navy League official greeters?  Well, the Navy treats Navy Leaguers like VIPs.  We were in the “first to board” group, and went to the official briefing in the Officer’s Mess.  If I understood things correctly, assembled in that room were all the ship’s officers and Chiefs.  They were gathered there to hear briefings from representatives from the San Francisco Police, from the company charged with supporting the docks for the Navy, from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (“NCIS”), and from the Navy League.

The briefings lived up to their names in that they were brief and informative.  The most fascinating fact I heard was that, on Saturday alone, 1.5 million people gathered in San Francisco to watch the Blue Angels fly.  That’s a staggering number.  It explains whys Supervisor Chris Daly’s annual efforts to stop the Blue Angels routinely meet with defeat, even from the liberal San Francisco political scene.  The amount of money flowing into the City for this single weekend is staggering.  Only a suicidal politician would destroy the most lucrative week in the City’s annual calendar.

After the briefing, Captain Neil Parrott himself took the Navy League contingent on a tour of the ship.  He was a charming and informative guide.  It is obvious that he loves his job, since he spoke with such pleasure about the ship itself and about his responsibilities on the ship.  He also gave my children the exquisite pleasure of sitting in the Captain’s own chair.  It was at that moment that my daughter suddenly realized that our host wasn’t just a well-dressed tour guide but was, in fact, really and truly the ship’s captain.

Listening to Capt. Parrott enthuse about his work, I was struck by the fact that the manifest pleasure he takes in his job has been evident on every ship’s tour we’ve ever taken, either as members of the general public or as Navy League guests.  Whether we’re talking to officers or enlisted personnel, and whether we’re on a Coast Guard Buoy Tender, a Destroyer, an Amphibious Assault Vessel or, frankly, a rowboat, every person seems to know his or her job inside and out, and to feel that the job is supremely interesting.

How many of us can say that about our lives?  And, in fact, their jobs are interesting.  If I were to waffle on about my job as a lawyer, people’s eyes would roll back into their heads and they’d pass out from boredom.  Hearing a captain describe his ship, however, is utterly fascinating.

The enthusiasm and sense of purpose and camaraderie that radiates from the officers and crew, career and enlisted, Navy and Marine, truly puts the lie to the whole political ideology that tries to paint our military men and women as befuddled, ignorant, child-like people, snatched from their ordinary lives and forced to serve an evil war machine.

While I’m sure that each ship holds its share of malcontents or people who just happen to be having a bad day, the fact is that, when you see face after face showing pride and purpose, you begin to get the sense that the people on the ship are there because they want to be, and that’s true whether they’re in it for the long term or just the short haul.  Frankly, your average corporation would do well if it was as neatly structured as the military and had employees as committed and knowledgeable as those gathered to serve in the Navy and Marines.

So thank you very much to the Navy League, and to the Bonhomme Richard for making today a wonderful day.

A good time was had by all *UPDATED*

I did something great today — I relaxed.  Okay, that’s not really all I did.  I relaxed in a very special place.  Along with my family, I spent time aboard the USCGC George Cobb (WLM 564), a Coast Guard Buoy Tender, which usually calls San Pedro, California its home.  Fortunately for us, it came up to the San Francisco Bay Area for Fleet Week.  As members of the Navy League, we got invited to spend the day aboard the Cobb so that we could watch the Blue Angels show.

From start to finish, the experience was delightful.  The Coast Guard made sure parking and check-in were easy, with delicious pre-packed lunches available for purchase too.  Once on board the Cobb, we were invited to explore the whole ship, barring sleeping quarters and the engineering room.  Inside or outside, we went everywhere and looked at everything.  The crew was consistently friendly and helpful, and it was a pleasure to see this immaculate ship.

My family and I ended up spending a lot of time in the bridge.  Not only was it comfortable (no cold wind blowing there), with good visuals (a 180 view of the surrouding bay), but it was also fascinating.  The bridge’s crew showed us all the equipment and let us hang out in their chairs to boot.  Although I got a little queasy and ended up back on the deck, my son refused to leave, and the crew cheerfully assured me that they would keep an eye on him — and they did.

Watching the Blue Angels from the Bay is an amazing experience.  We were “parked” (I forget the official sea term) near Alcatraz, and it’s pretty clear that the Angels use Alcatraz as one of their markers.  They therefore flew so near us that you could practically see the pilot’s faces.  As always, it was a spectacular and completely enjoyable air show.  It’s so obvious that the pilots love what they do.  There is a joie de vivre to the performance that just sweeps one along.  As for the precision, if I didn’t know there were real people in the cock pits, I swear I’d think they were computer programmed — it’s that good.

At the end of the day, I asked my son to rate the experience on a 1 through 10 scale (with ten being the best).  He gave the day an 8 3/4, since it would have been perfect only if there had been guns and the guns had been fired!  I’m not sure about the gun bit but otherwise I have to agree with my son, since the day was about as good as it can get.

UPDATE:  There’s one other thing I wanted to add, and although it’s a silly thing, it seems important.  After we returned frpm the ship, we pulled into our local market to get some supplies.  As I know I’ve mentioned before, I live in a very nice community.  Nevertheless, the young people, who are only a few years younger than many of the Cobb’s crew, hew to the latest fashions.  We were therefore met with the sight of several shaggy haired kids in collapsing baggy pants, or overly tight peg legs, with the young men sporting rather random facial hair.  That reminded me of something else I liked about the ship:  the crew looked so . . . clean.  The buzz cuts on the men, the neat pony tails on the women, the simple blue uniform:  it all added up to a fresh, polished look that I greatly admired.