Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Norfolk Trip: Day Seven

Final day.

Final breakfast at the navy mess hall.

When we get back to the barracks it is time to pack our things and get the barracks ready for inspection.

The cadets are in charge of cleaning the barracks (Lorrie and I swept our rooms). The girls have cleaned the barracks so that we leave it in better condition than we found it. The male cadets do the same.

A Sergeant from the Virginia National Guard performed the inspections and both barracks passed with flying colors.

Time to load up the bus.

We watch movies and sleep on the way home. I must have slept soundly for a while because I missed bus driver Tom's departure and his replacement driver take over. We stop for dinner in South Carolina.

Back on the road again and back to sleep. I sleep soundly again, miss all of Georgia and awaken when the bus pulls onto the side of the highway.

Our poor bus has finally given up the ghost. The transmission will not engage any longer. Some sort of electrical problem I think (I'm about as good a mechanic as I am a submariner). We are just south of Orlando and it is 5:00 a.m.

As we are sitting roadside, back home at 5:00 a.m., The Colonel is just waking up to his alarm clock and having some breakfast. Our bus was scheduled to arrive home at 6:00 a.m. As he is eating his breakfast he says to himself, "Because I'm up this early, I bet they'll have some bus trouble and not arrive on time." Just as he finishes this thought his phone rings and its me telling him that we are stuck roadside near Orlando and we will be getting in around 9:30 a.m.

We have to wait less than an hour for a new bus to show up, when it does we gather our things and get off the bus. Our gear underneath the bus has to be transferred to the new bus and the cadets get that job done in no time. Finally everything and everyone is aboard the new bus and we are on the road again.

I catch a few more winks before we pull into the school's parking lot.

The Colonel is there to greet us. It is good to be back home.

I enjoyed the trip. I saw a lot and learned quite a bit. I enjoyed most of my chaperon duties (there were some emotional outbursts from some of the girls). I met a new friend in Lorrie, and got to know the Captain and Chief a little better as well as some of the other cadets along the way.

Would I do something like this again?

Yeah, probably (but not the roller coaster thing).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Norfolk Trip: Day Six

Up and at 'em to start another day.

After a delicious breakfast with the Navy and before we headed to the Marine Corps Base Quantico we visited the C-2A Greyhound squadron. These planes are the mail haulers (they also haul people and supplies) to the naval ships. The squadron's nickname was The Rawhides after the Pony Express who hauled mail in 1860-1861.

It was about a two and a half hour drive from the navy base to the marine base. We once again drove through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (we'd been through it a couple of times before during our trip). The tunnel is impressive. It goes under the bay's water anywhere from 25 to 100 feet deep and is one mile long.

It was tiled in white subway-like tile. I would have hated to be the one to take on that tile job.

I'm glad that we never got stuck in the tunnel because of an accident or traffic jam...being under all that water...remember I would not make a good submariner!

When we got to Quantico it was time to eat again. This was our first meal at the marine mess hall. The food was good and the food servers were friendly.

With lunch finished we witnessed a K-9 demonstration. It was a brief demonstration due to the wet grass after the rainstorm. The dog handlers did not want the dogs to slip and injure themselves. Following the dog demo we visited the Marine Corps helicopter squadron responsible for direct support for the White House, the HMX-1 Nighthawks.

Our next stop was the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Very impressive. I would have liked more time there. The displays were very realistic and interactive. I experienced motion, sound and temperature changes depending on what battle was being depicted.

We had dinner at the marine mess hall after the museum visit before hitting the road again for our long ride back to the barracks.

End of day six.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Norfolk Trip: Day Five

After breakfast we visited the Submarine Learning Center.

I do believe that was one of my favorite things on the entire trip.

We were met by a submariner who gave us a briefing on what submariners do and what it takes to become one. It takes lots of math and science plus a certain mindset to be able to withstand being underwater, in a confined space, for long periods of time.

I have to remind myself to breathe when I watch submarine that disqualifies me for the job, let alone my less than stellar math and science skills, my current age, my gender (although females will become submariners by 2012 in officer billets) and never having the desire to become a submariner in the first place.

I have a new respect for all submariners now.

After the briefing we were taken to the training area that housed the computerized virtual simulator. Spud got a chance to step into the simulator and strap on a some goggles. The computer tech punched some buttons and Spud was then visually transported to the bridge of a sub. The rest of us were able to see what Spud saw in his goggles on a television screen.

The computer could be set to simulate a large number of ports around the world in perfect detail. The tech could manipulate the simulations. He could change the weather and roughness of the seas. He made it snow in Pearl Harbor.

The simulator was voice activated too. The student (or cadet in our situation) could use a handheld radio mike to give orders and direction to the simulated sub and it would make the course changes. What a great training tool.

After the virtual training experience we made our way to a mechanical training system. It was a mock up of a submarine bridge. The cadets sat down at key positions on the bridge and our tour guide, an active duty submariner, set up a simulation for a submarine dive.

The cadets helped with the dive by sounding the alarm (it sounded like a loud school bell) and working the "stick" or steering wheel. The tour guide told the cadet who was at the stick what number the controls needed to read to achieve the deep dive. The cadet would push in the stick until the desired number was reached on the control panel. The entire bridge of the simulator pitched forward and we all had to hang in order not to tumble forward.

After the dive it was time to simulate a surfacing. We simulated the extreme surface like the submarine did in The Hunt for Red October...a steep incline and then an abrupt landing on the water's surface.

The alarm was sounded again and Spud had to simulate blowing the ballasts. He grabbed onto two levers called the "chicken legs" because they resemble a couple of drumsticks.

We had to once again hold on for dear life during the surfacing because the platform's angle was steep. I kinda felt like the crew of the Star Trek Enterprise...remember how they would have to grab onto something on the bridge when the Enterprise was struck by enemy photon torpedoes?

It all felt so realistic. I loved it!

Next...time for lunch and another shopping trip at the NEX and then onto a tour of a real submarine...the USS Scranton.

No cameras were allowed on or around the Scranton so I do not have any pictures of our tour but here is a picture I got off the Internet so that you can get an idea of what we toured. The sub is about 362 feet long and has 12 officers and 98 men aboard as its crew. It has a nuclear propulsion system.

The sub was tied at dockside and was undergoing some cosmetic repairs (painting). We walked up a gangplank and onto the topside of the sub near the back of the sail (that tall black stack on the back of the sub). We continued walking forward topside until we reached the hatch that would gain us entry to the Scranton. The hatch is just in front of the sail.

One at a time we climbed down the ladder into the sub and landed in a narrow hallway, barely wide enough for one person. To allow anyone to pass us in the hall we had to press ourselves against the wall.

We toured the little mess hall and I peeked my head into the tiny galley (kitchen) and we also peeked into the officer and enlisted quarters...again tiny.

I felt a bit claustrophobic just taking the tour. I'd make a terrible submariner. I wouldn't last in such a confined space, under all that water for those long periods of time. I appreciate and am in awe of those who can and do.

Lorrie and I opted not to go down into the bottom deck of the sub, the torpedo room; it was crowded with cadets and was going to get even more packed when the remaining cadets went down.

Lorrie and I exited the sub, and as I was clearing the hatch I scraped my left shin on the hatch's edge. Thankfully Lorrie had some facial tissues (I gave them to her a couple of days earlier) I could use to staunch the blood flow. Could this be considered being wounded in action?

The sub visit was over and we had time to spare before dinner so we boarded the bus for a guided tour of the naval base. That was nice.

Dinner behind us, back to the barracks, more P.T. for the cadets, showers and lights out.

End of day five.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Norfolk Trip: Day Four

You know the daily morning drill...

Up at 5 a.m., on the bus at 6 a.m and breakfast at the navy mess hall and then onto our day's activities.

First stop...ride in a LCM/LCU.

It is an aquatic vehicle used to transport troops and vehicles onto a beach. We got to take a ride in it around the harbor and then we "stormed" a beach. We were warned to hold on and steady ourselves because there would be quite a bump when the LCM/LCU hit the beach. They were right, even though we had braced ourselves we were still surprised by the jarring. We were jostled against one another.

Some of the cadets got out of the vehicle and onto the beach. Those who did got their shoes muddy and would have to work harder that evening when they polished them.

Our next stop was to see the Landing Craft & Air Cushion (LCAC) static display.
We were not able to take a ride on the LCAC.

The LCAC and its crew of five can negotiate roughly 70% of the world's coast lines. The air cushions allow it to reach areas most ships or boats can't and it can go from the water to the land without stopping. The picture below shows and LCAC in action (the air cushions are filled with air, unlike in the picture above).

LCACs can travel over 46 mph. That would have been a great ride.

Our next stop was to a Navy SEAL brief and pool. There we learned about the SEALs and what it takes to become one (lots of hard work, mental and physical) and watched as some young men were going through an obstacle course in the pool in hopes of being chosen to be accepted into the SEAL training program.

The young men climbed the ropes and swung from them like monkeys and then dove into the water. One man lept from the diving board, did a somersault in air and landed on the cargo netting that was strung up a few feet from the diving board. Impressive. Several of the female cadets really enjoyed watching the guys perform (me too).

Lunch (you guessed it, the Navy mess hall) was sandwiched between the SEALs and our next stop.

Our next stop was to the Coast Guard Station Little Creek. The Captain was thrilled to be there as he is a Coastie. He was grinning from ear to ear.

Our cadets had to be broken into three groups for the station tour. One group was given a tour of the station house and visited the radio room. The radio room is where all of the distress calls come in. Then one group went outside to see the weapons (hand guns, machine guns and rifles) that the Coast Guard uses if they need them as they perform their duties on the water and another group got a ride in the Coast Guard's newest boat (it is self-righting but thank God we didn't have to find that out during our ride) and a tour of an 87 foot cutter called USCG Albacore.

Both boats are used in search and rescue efforts as well as recreational boating safety and fisheries regulation. Everyone at the Coast Guard Station were extremely nice and knowledgeable.

It was time to get back on the bus and head for dinner at the mess hall then back to the barracks.

Our poor bus was getting quite a workout and it was taking a toll on it. Our A/C quit on us earlier in the day (I do believe Virginia was warmer than Florida during our visit, or at least it felt like it). Tom, the bus driver, would get it fixed on day five.

End of day four.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Norfolk Trip: Day Three

Day three was another busy day for us. We woke up at 5 a.m. and were on the bus an hour later, heading for breakfast at the navy mess hall.

With breakfast over, it was time to board the bus and head to our first activity of the day...a tour of the USS Nassau.

The Nassau is 820 feet long and 106 feet wide. It can transport over 3,000 troops. Its A/C could cool a 32-story building or 500 average homes.

There are four medical operating rooms, three dental rooms and 300 hospital beds on board. We toured the medical centers of the ship and visited the same room that the Somali pirates were taken to when they were captured and needed medical care. The door with the red cross on it, on the back wall, was the door they came through.

We visited the ship's bridge, the deck, the Marine bunks (they could accommodate 1900 Marines, stacked four high. It was like a maze in there. I would need a GPS to find my bunk), the very bottom deck of the ship that could be flooded with sea water so that boats could be brought aboard (the water level would be another 8 to 10 feet above the Captain and Chief's heads) and a other sections of the ship like the anchor room and mess hall (not pictured).

Before we left the ship we took a group shot of the cadets on deck.

Walking up and down all of those stairs to reach all of the decks made us hungry so lunch was in order (to the Navy mess hall again via the bus). After lunch went shopping at the NEX (Naval Exchange); it is the Navy's Wal-Mart. Some of the kids bought Navy gear like T-shirts and hats.

Our next stop after the NEX was Colonial Williamsburg. It was a brief stop of an hour and a half, just enough time to walk up and down Duke of Gloucester Street and one or two of the side streets. The last time I was at Colonial Williamsburg was roughly 25 years ago.

Loving history (as you know), I was thrilled to revisit some of the historical houses and know that I was walking the same streets that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson walked.

This is the Wythe House. Mr. Wythe was a patriot and Virginia's first signer of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington used this house as his headquarters before the siege of Yorktown.

This is the Governor's Palace. Thomas Jefferson was the last Governor of Virginia to reside here before the Capital was relocated to Richmond in 1780 upon Jefferson's request for security reasons during the American Revolution.

I was able snap a few more pictures during our brief visit.

The Marquis de Lafayette.

Some of the locals.

I enjoyed my revisit to Colonial Williamsburg but wished it could have been longer; too soon we had to board the bus again and head back to the barracks.

When we got back to the barracks the cadets began their P.T. They stretched to warm-up and then began the 2 mile run to the beach. Lorrie and I walked to the beach and put our toes into the water.

The Captain and Chief opted for a pizza night at the barracks once everyone was back from the run instead of getting back on the bus and eating at the navy mess hall. Everyone was tired, so that was a great plan.

The cadets got to have their cell phones for an hour each evening to call parents, friends or boy friends.

The pizza and cell phones made for very happy cadets (and chaperons) that evening.

End of day three.