Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dude We're in the Med!!!

I remember one of the greatest days in my career. It was in 2009, and I was in the Red Sea. I came on the bridge of the ship, the USS San Antonio, and we were about to set a detail. A Detail is another name for an operation that is usual but comes with a higher risk to all personnel  concerned. The detail we were setting was a trip through the Suez Canal. This was nearing the end of our maiden deployment, by this time we'd accomplished so much that the only danger we'd have would probably be from the shores on either side. Without going into specifics  of what we all do to prepare for this, let me tell you, there's a lot of prep work.

We started early, my whole shop would be on hot standby, even the night watchman who was just relieved. Before the sun fully rose over the Red Sea, my ship and some others lined up and entered the 101 mile canal. People who know about this kind of transit, know immediately what a nerve wrecking experience this can be. 

For laymen picture this: Get four or five Hot Wheel cars. Line then them up equal distance behind one another. Then on either side of the cars create a space one car width wide all the way throughout and call it the shore. Then make it really really curvy. Then with what every thing you can find make the areas behind the shore markers hostile territory. Now scale that to the size of any US Navy Vessel. That's what it feels like to go through the Suez Canal.

Now back to the Red Sea. We entered the Canal from the south as this was thankfully our exit trip. On the other end was and still is the Mediterranean Sea. To us it, if we made it safely through to the Med, we would be going home. Not that there would be a chance that we'd have to go back, or that there was not a threat in the Med, it was just that getting to the Med was a big deal. 

Before us, the Quartermasters, lay every paper chart we'd need to get through. Out the glass that surrounded the the bridge lay nothing but ship, sea and miles of sand on either side. There were places in the Suez that are so narrow that you could throw a rock and it'd land on the other side. There are places in the Suez so shallow that if you weren't careful you could beach the ship. On the shores are monuments and statues that constantly remind us of how different our live back home are from this. There is a monument  on the banks of the Suez that looks like a 40 foot tall AK-47. Another if I remember correctly another monument looks like a giant hunting knife. There are a few times through out my short career where I've been really concerned for my life. This was one of those times.

A jeep follows us along the western shore. From my vantage point this is our only escort. It rides along a distance then stops at a checkpoint where another jeep picks up the job. There are armed men very few miles standing by with an orange flag, as if to mark the Kilometers. That's all there is to look at: miles of sand and the ass of the ship in front of us. The jeep kicks up dust around the sentry as it passes by. Nothing, just nothing to see, we're all tense expecting the worse.

For a moment we began to drift out of our line and the bank suddenly rushes towards us from the right.  The QM on the table immediately responds and we all jump in and assists him. The ships gets back in line after some quick actions from everyone on the bridge. That actually took off some of the edge, people start to find their grove. It was bound to happen on a long detail. The detail dragged on all day.

When we switched charts the last time I was so glad. The temperature had dropped a little and the sun would be going down shortly. We didn't care, we wanted this part of our trip behind us. We were all ready to relax, some to sleep, and some to eat. Most of us just wanted to be anywhere but on our stations. Then we were exiting. The ship in front of us altered it's course and passed a farewell greeting over the air.  The San Antonio was free to maneuver not long after that.

As I looked at the Med for the first time in almost five months my first reaction was mild shock. I thought, we're out, meh! Then I looked out the window at the horizon. I wish I had my camera. The sky was between shades of white grey and blue. There was a brisk wind coming from the port bow. There was a serious chop to the sea that literally changed from green to blue the further from the mouth of the Suez. It was surreal like something you'd only see in a movie that was heavy on the CG. Even that air was different. My next feeling was just wonder, awe. I have always liked looking out into the ocean, and here I was just completely  breathless at the view.   

One of the officers on the bridge turned towards the chart table where the shop had gathered. He was all smiles and high fives. He kept saying, "Dude we're in the Med."  I have a hard time putting into words even today what getting to the Mediterranean Sea meant to me. It was like a great weight being lifted from our collective shoulders. It was worth a celebratory cigarette on the smoke deck. It was a good feeling. That day made me love my job. That day makes me miss my job, and the sea.

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