Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ron's Naval Boating Adventure (21 Days on the Angry Pacific)

I thought it only fair to explain to everyone why I have not posted anything for the last three weeks. I was out getting in touch with the Marine Corps' oldest mission...defending Naval vessels. It was nonstop excitement and adventure...that was sarcasm. I had so much to do that I wrote a bit of a diary of the daily events on the ship. You may find them boring and choose not to read, but you will be missing out on high seas adventure. For those sick people who actually find this interesting, I will have pics and videos posted on my facebook of the entire ordeal. I bring you Ron's Boating Adventure...

Day One

We have been sitting in our vehicles all afternoon waiting for the ship to come back from it's test run. The base is conveniently having their own Antiterrorism/Force Protection (AT/FP) exercise, which has caused everything on the base to be closed down. My plan to purchase Dramamine (just in case) has just fizzled. We finally boarded the ship around 1800. The humorous moment of the day came when we were walking through the security gate to the pier. Apparently, due to the exercise, the security guards are supposed to be stopping anyone coming through and having someone aboard the ship search their bags. I only know this because after walking through the gate with some other Marines to include a Ssgt from Crash Crew, the Base Commander rides up in the passenger side of a government vehicle and attempts to get our attention as we are walking away. “Hey there shipmates” I hear a voice behind us say. We pretend to ignore it, certainly he's talking to the gate sentries. We hear the same voice louder bellow, “HEY SHIPMATES!!”

We turn around and as we are turning the Ssgt says disgustedly (not knowing it's the Base Commander), “shipmates??” The Base Commander is not entertained apparently because he loses it and yells, “Yeah, I said shipmates! Do you have a F-ing problem with that?” I discover who he is and render a salute. He angrily tells us that all our bags have to be searched and one of the ship's crew needs to come down and start searching them. He then let's the gate sentries have it for not doing their job and rides off down the pier to impose his pleasant demeanor on other unfortunate souls. Now every time I see the Ssgt on the ship I call him shipmate.

Day Two Thursday

Due to the AT/FP exercise, we had to stand up our armed security team on the ship, even though we are still tied up to the pier. We stoop up our first shift at midnight and I have established three, eight hour shifts. We have four, brand new, still in the box .50 cal's. This would normally sound great...brand new weapons, woohooo!! However, when these crew served guns are new like that, they come with a heavy layer of packing grease coating all of it's parts. We spend the better part of the first evening and this afternoon cleaning this glue-like substance off of the guns. WE find out that we are not leaving the base until Friday morning now. We also are informed of a pretty bad storm coming our way Friday and Saturday. This boat could be a-rockin.

Day Three Friday

Busy day, All of our crew served guns are on their mounts and we stand up the entire security team, to include myself and the Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) for our trip through the San Diego Harbor and out to sea. Small security boats escort us through the harbor, and are the primary security element, keeping civilian watercraft away from our ship. You'd be amazed how many people think they can do whatever they want in that harbor, including run their boats right up to our ship. The security boats do a great job of shielding them away from us and past the point where they drop off and head back into the harbor. We are now the primary security element for the ship. The chow is now greasy foods each meal. I am told that it helps people to not get seasick. We started with ominous cloudy skies but they have broken now and the sky is a beautiful shade of blue. It's a rough life out here.

Day Four Saturday

Time seems to be flying by. Hard to believe day four is in the books. Today we conducted our first crew served weapons shoot. We gave a brief overview of the .50 cal and a safety brief to our captive audience of civilian crew members who wanted to shoot the weapon. They all seemed to enjoy themselves. Everyone I noticed walking away after shooting had a smile on their face. All of a sudden we are the public relations wizards of this vessel!! The highlight of the day was a little old vietnamese lady who cooks on the ship. She cannot be taller than 4' 8”, so imagine her in a Marine flack and kevlar behind a machine gun that is mounted almost as high as she is tall. It was quite a sight to see!! Top it with the fact she has never handled a firearm of any kind in her entire life. Instant classic!!

Day Five Sunday

What can I say about today? Before I weave a tail that the entire crew of the ship is still talking about, I will begin with the best thing that happened all day. The ship moved in close enough to shore that we had cell phone signals. I was able to call home to the family and send a few photos from the trip so far. Okay, on to the excitement of the day. As mentioned before, we are the armed security forces aboard the ship providing “real world” security while they participate in the exercise. We have very specific rules regarding implementation of deadly force and a ladder of escalation of force we must follow. Anyone in law enforcement knows exactly what I'm talking about, but you don't really need to be well versed in this to enjoy this story. Put simply, other vessels on the water have to stay a certain distance away from our ship. If they get too close there are steps that are taken to alert them of their error. The first is a large horn blow by the ships Captain, and immediate attempts to reach them on radio. At any time we hear this horn we spring into action wherever we are and react, by throwing on our flack and kevlar and manning the crew served weapons we have mounted in various areas of the ship. At around three-thirty or so this afternoon a boat came toward our ship at a decent rate of speed. The horn sounded, we reacted, the boat ignored the horn and radio communication attempts, and continued directly toward us. The horn sounded again and the ship ignored the command and continued directly at our ship. Two people on this vessel are authorized to fire warning shots in the area of a boat that enters our danger zone at about one hundred yards, myself and the Chief Warrant Officer I work for. He commandeered one of my Marines M-16's and I went topside to take up post on the .50 cal machine gun. The boat continued approaching, and I was wondering to myself if we were really about to experience what; in my mind, had about a 1% chance of happening the entire time we were to be out here. The boat closed in to about 100 yards and I attempted to wave them off for a last time before we had some serious decisions to make. The boat slowed, turned to the side, and stopped abruptly, but did not leave. Instead, as the CWO and I waited with our weapons aimed in on the boat and its occupants, two young ladies, obviously intoxicated, walked out to the side facing our ship and treated everyone to a “take a look at what God blessed me with” show. Mind you, this show was not over in five seconds. They continued to parade themselves around and show us their gratitude for quite a few minutes. They have no idea how close they were to having their day ruined in a big way.

Day Six Monday

Today we had a big .50 cal shoot. We fired off 4000 rounds in less than two hours. We were definitely cooking barrels. This reminds me of the phrase of this trip so far, and no, it is not “shipmates”. Believe it or not that word has been outdone in a big way by the phrase, “killer tomatoes”. For those of you who have done a tour of recruiting duty, I am not speaking of the term used to describe the old retired Marine Corps League guys that show up to parades and such in their red uniforms. No, I speak of large orange, inflatable targets which a certain civilian GS-oh my goodness on the ship is fascinated with to the point of us wishing him to be inside of the floating target during an upcoming shoot. Since we boarded this ship six days ago he has spoken of nothing but these “killer tomatoes” every time we talk about shooting. At every time of the day, in every meeting, in hallways, nooks, crannies, and every where in between, killer tomatoes...Killer Tomatoes...KILLER TOMATOES!!! He has made us want to vomit with his insistency that we use these targets, to the point that I specifically don't want to use them, if, for no other reason, just because he wants to. This morning I finally busted one out of it's box and noticed it is made out of a type of plastic. Having been briefed days ago about what can and cannot be thrown in the ocean from our ship, I remembered that plastic was a big No-No. I went to one of the ships crew and he confirmed that we could not shoot it and sink it. We determined that we had to retrieve it if we were going to use it. My evil plan to not use this had a chance!! I asked the crew about ways to retrieve and we were pretty much limited to lowering one of the smaller boats from our ship to go get it after the shoot or tying it up to a rope behind the ship and pulling it in after we finished. The ships crew stated that they truly did not wish to lower their boat into the water to retrieve this 14' by 14' monstrosity and if we were to tie it up we would need to find about a mile long rope for it to work. I love it when a good plan comes together!! No Killer Tomato!!

Day Seven (Tuesday)

I played my first game of chess in about fifteen years today. One of my Marines talked me into playing him and it took a while to knock the rust off, but after making a few stupid mistakes early, I fought him to a draw. Since this opener, I have won two straight games of chess. One of which I won without losing a piece. I have decided I shouldn't play any more chess on this float, as now I can tell my Marines that I never lost a game to them.

Day Eight (Wednesday)

Observation of the we pulled in close enough to land that the Marines could use their cell phones and make calls. There is really only one area of the ship where everyone can gather and get a signal, outside on the back. I went out there to try to get some sunset photos and found the Marines' behavior very entertaining. I would have to estimate that about 50% of the Marines were having casual conversations with loved ones, 30% were arguing somewhat discreetly with their significant other, and 20% were making open idiots of themselves yelling at their wives/girlfriends. Some, you could tell, were just trying to sound like toughguys to the others around the ship, that they perceive, via their narcissism, are listening to their conversation. Brainless macho bravado like, “don't raise your voice to me!” and “because I'm your husband, that's why!” cause me to shake my head and realize that in some areas of life, it is better to get older. Having no internet is really starting to make me feel lost in the political arena. I have no idea what is going on in the news. It will take me forever to catch up once I'm off the ship.

Day Ten (Friday)

Well, a three star General came aboard today to see the ship. We had stand up the whole team on the crew served weapons for his visit. I never tire of these “dog and pony” shows and all the “pomp and circumstance” that goes with them. The truth of the matter is that most generals I have met during my time in the Marine Corps are very down to earth. They know all of the trouble that is created everytime they go somewhere and I am guessing some are actually embarrassed by it. I know I would be if I were in their shoes. I would call Unit Commanders ahead of time and tell them not to have their Marines doing any stupid preparatory work or participating in any symbolic duties beyond what they normally do from day to day. The word came down to me after the General had left that he was very impressed with my AT/FP setup...whatever.

Day Eleven (Saturday)

It is Cinco De Marcho today. A made up holiday on our ship created to give the Marines some excitement and a change from the boring monotony of ship life. They have planned out many exciting events for the day. There will be a fishing expedition at 1500, a pinata ceremony at 1900, and dancing bears at 2000...okay, I might have made up the dancing bears portion. The fishing expedition starts off well enough until someone gets the idea to take an entire 25 pound turkey and put it on a hook created especially for the turkey in one of the machine shops below...that's right...I believe this to have been premeditated. Watching three Marines using various methods in an attempt to shish-ka-bob the turkey onto the hook just lend further credibility to my theory that all the stupid safety standdowns a command could possibly have will not stop Marines from doing crazy's in the blood. So I watch as they manage to get the hook through the turkey, and can hardly believe I'm actually watching Marines lower a 25 pound turkey into the ocean to fish with. As of 2200 the turkey has been unable to entice any of the ocean fishes. The pinata ceremony was entertaining in it's own right.

Day Twelve (Sunday)

Twas a busy day today. We were scheduled to run a 240G machine gun shoot starting at 1300 today. I had my security team fire M16 and M14 first, and we were to end with 4000 rounds through the m240's. What a debacle it turned out to be! The first half went without a hitch but the 240's had been on this ship for four years and were in horrible condition. We worked and worked on them, but they ended up being basically worthless. What a waste of a couple of expensive weapons. The ship poker tournament starts tonight and of course I could not pass up this opportunity. We have 18 signed up and the structure will be one table of 6 players per night for three nights. Each table will play down to the final 2, who will move on to a final table of 6 on the 4th night. The buy-in was $10 with the top 3 getting paid. I am slated to play my preliminary on night 3. I like my chances.

Day Thirteen (Monday)

Okay, I'm now officially bored. I have read all three books I brought and watched as many movies as I can stand. It's time to get off this floating prison!!!

Day Fourteen (Tuesday)

I played my preliminary table in the poker tournament and played quite horribly. Needless to say, I did not make the final table. Have I mentioned yet that I am ready to get off this stupid boat?? Watched The Wedding Singer for the 20th time. I also did run 4 miles on the treadmill in 27:57. I'm starting to get my running back in gear.

Day Fifteen (Wednesday)

Okay, the thrill is officially gone! I need to get off this ship!!

Day Sixteen (Thursday)

Seriously...I am considering lowering one of the life boats and rowing to shore!!!

Day Seventeen (Friday)

So the day started off with a bang when we heard about a massive earthquake that hit Japan. The rumor started floating around that we were all in danger of a tsunami, but logic is telling me that we'll be just fine. It seems to me that if you throw a rock in the water or push start a wave with your hands in a pool that the wave gets smaller as it goes away from the initial force that started it. If this life-ending tidal wave is to hit our ship I am guessing it will be about a foot tall by the time it gets to us from Japan. Nonetheless, I am praying for the safety of those caught up in this disaster.

This may sound cruel, but sometimes it can be really fun to start a rumor for the mere pleasure of seeing how fast it spreads. Today I thought of the idea of mentioning to a couple people that it was possible we would be staying out past the end of this exercise on the 15th and that the ship will possibly be heading directly to Japan to help out with disaster relief efforts. It's amazing how fast you can get everyone stressing out.

Day Eighteen (Saturday)

The final machine gun shoot!! We fired off the remaining 1800 .50 cal rounds and yes, the Killer Tomato made it's debut!! If only you could have seen GS-Moron after it was released into the water on the starboard side of the vessel. He followed it along the railing of the ship as though it were a train leaving station with his wife on it. I think I even saw tears in his eyes at one point...idiot!! The only satisfaction was watching one of the Marines take a shot which appeared to land very low on the floating bounce house. It immediately canted severely to one side and began sinking rapidly. I am guessing the trajectory ripped a large hole in the floor of the mighty tomato...the tomato is down!!!!

Day Nineteen (Sunday)

The remaining strategy for these next two days is to find anything that will consume my time and prevent boredom from overcoming me.

Day Twenty (Monday)

You have to be kidding me!! Now all three treadmills in the gym are broke!! Apparently some brainchild thought it would be a good idea to run on them in boots and utes. I had to use the stairclimber today and the stairclimber is nothing more than a modern, legalized method of torture. I have to get off this ship of horrors!!!

Day Twenty-One (Tuesday)

I'm finally getting off this ship and going home today. Wooohooo!!!