It took a bit of trouble getting me here, but I'm now on board the USS BLUE RIDGE (LCC-19), flagship of the US Seventh Fleet.
The fiasco started with the process of getting my orders approved in order for me to travel to Japan. I won't bore you with the details other than to say that it looks like nobody bothered to tell the folks that buy plane tickets for Navy travellers that there was a crisis, so they didn't have anyone extra around for the weekend and there were a lot of us that got delayed in the jumble.
Once I actually got myself aboard the plane, everything came together pretty well. I had a layover in Tokyo's Narita International Airport and I've never seen it so empty. From there I connected to Naha Field in Okinawa. From the looks of it, almost everyone on the plane was US military. When we landed in Okinawa, a Navy bus met us and ferried us out to Kadena Air Base where they put us up for the night in the Bachelor Officers Quarters.
The next morning we piled our gear into the back of a truck and headed out to the pier. I'm still trying to figure out how to upload pictures while I'm out at sea, otherwise I'd share the first snapshot I got of the ship at the pier.
Once on board, we were all give our berthing assignments and whatnot. I'm sharing a stateroom with three other officers. That stateroom shares a head and shower with the stateroom next door. All things considered, they're pretty good living quarters for a Navy ship.
Not long after I'd arrived on board I managed to find Rich Servance, who's been one of my best friends in the world since freshman year of college. While I've known for some time where I was going to be stationed, I've been keeping it quiet specifically to keep him from finding out about it and prompting another chapter in the Saga of the Ten Pound Bag of Pennies. I've also come across three guys who I served with during my first sea tour aboard the USS CUSHING (DD-985).
The following morning, the ship left the pier and I started my involvement in Operation Tomodachi, the Humatarian Aid/Disaster Relief (HADR in military parlance) mission persuant to the earthquake and tsunami of mid-March. Right now the US Navy has 19 ships, 140 aircraft, and 18,282 personnel involved in the mission. The biggest concern, of course, is avoiding radioactive contamination while delivering aid supplies to those in need in the stricken area. While we're doing that, we're also working to re-open Japanese ports which were cluttered with debris after the disaster, helping to deliver freshwater via barges to the stricken Fukushima nuclear reactors, and working with the Japanese government to provide emergency supplies and equipment to isolated communities that were cut off by the tsunami damage.
For my part, I'm one of three folks covering the Maritime watch in the Fleet Command Center. We'll be rotating through (eight hours each per day) keeping track of the surface ships involved in the disaster relief operation. Despite how that might sound, it's not all that interesting. At the fleet command level nothing happens very fast.
So far, the biggest challenge for me has been getting re-acquainted with the various codes and acronyms that are daily language for naval officers, but not much use for merchant seamen. Other than that, it's been surprisingly easy to re-integrate myself to active duty.
So that's the short version of what's been going on. Again, I'll be posting when I can with what details I can.