The journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but the journey of 5,000 miles begins with a car, a couple of airplanes, and a bus.
Flying into Tokyo's Narita airport was pretty simple. In fact, the usually bustling Tokyo airport was eerily empty when I got there for my layover before connecting to Okinawa. Judging by all the short-haired foreigners waiting around in the terminal, the flight was almost entirely filled with US military personnel.
This made sorting out luggage at the airport a bit of a chore before we all got on the bus to the first base:
They put us up in transient quarters at Kadena Air Base for the night while we waited for the ship to arrive. The next morning we all piled back into the bus and headed to White Beach Naval Station which still looked pretty much the same way it did the last time I was there (somewhere around the year 2000):
It's a small base, so in no time at all we got our first glimpse of the ship:
When I was a midshipman, I actually spent a month on board the USS BLUE RIDGE (LCC-19) and now, almost fifteen years later, I'm amazed at how clean the ship is. I could show you all sorts of things to demonstrate the showroom quality of the ship, but here's a random passageway, complete with polished brass sounding plates in the deck:
After I'd received my stateroom assignment, key cards, passwords, and electrical safety checks for my personal electronics, I dropped my bags on my rack and headed out to walk around for a bit. I haven't taken any pictures of my stateroom because there's no good angle from which you can photograph a space the size of a small walk-in closet when it's designed to sleep six adults and store their gear.
Up on the main deck, I took a few minutes to check out one of the helicopters. Suffice it to say, the admiral rides in style:
Then I took it upon myself to leave the ship and walk around ashore for a bit. It was there on the pier that I finally found LCDR Servance, my closest classmate from the SUNY Maritime College, looking ever the professional naval officer:
Somewhere along the way things began to stabilize ashore and our operational tempo began to trail off. We were headed to Yokosuka, Japan and someone decided it would be a good idea for all of the folks like me who were augmenting the staff temporarily to pose for a big group photo with Vice Admiral Van Buskirk, the three-star admiral in command of Seventh Fleet.
I'll post that picture whenever I actually see a copy of it.
Meanwhile, I managed to get a picture with some of the guys I've been standing my watches with:
I'm the guy on the right not wearing a flight suit.
The next morning I got my first view of Japan's big island from the sea (for this year):
If you squint really close in the picture you can see a little dark sliver on the horizon. That's the land of the rising sun.
As we got closer, I was again amazed at how uncharacteristically quiet it was. Tokyo Bay is usually bustling with ships and boats going every which way. This day it was almost serene:
As the ship made it's turn toward Naval Station Yokosuka, the crew began manning the rails:
Since I was off watch, all I had to do was stay out of the way while the ship moored. Then everyone was dismissed and I got to hang out on deck while the shore gang rigged the gangways:
While I was waiting, I noticed a couple of things I hadn't seen before in my previous visits to Yokosuka. The first was these tiny little tugboats:
I can't imagine what they're good for, but they're adorable.
The second new thing I noticed was a handful of guys on deck taking their Geiger counters for a walk:
From what I've heard, they didn't count very many Geigers.
Once the gangway was set up, Rich Servance and I wandered around the base for a bit and headed out into town for dinner. Japan still looks much like I remember it looking. As a bonus, the cherry blossoms are in season:
Now that we're in Yokosuka and things are slowly returning to normal for the fleet, the bulk of the augmentees are being sent home. But not me.
Being one of the few people staying behind for a bit means there's finally enough room in the "Flag Mess" where the admiral and his staff eat to fit me as well:
Unfortunately, I've been standing watches at night and they don't serve mid-rats** in port. Jerks.
I'll be getting a bit of time to actually go out and about before I'm done here in Japan, so stay tuned for more pictures and whatnot...
*Which might sound cool, but I still don't get to know if there are aliens.
**"Mid-rats" is short for "midnight rations" a fourth meal served aboard ship to accomodate the folks who are getting off work or about to start in the middle of the night.