Well, I just spent an hour and a half uploading the pictures below to my blog! What a pain in the neck! Our internet connectivity is pretty limited. To put it in perspective, at home, I had Verizon FIOS Fiber Optic internet service that provided 20Mbps (20 Million bits per second) speed. On the ship, all 930 of us share a 1Mbps connection!
Anyway, the last two days have been pretty cool. On Friday, Big Al (the Current Operations Officer for PHIBRON SIX) and I went ashore. We started doing that in Haiti, and now we go ashore together early in the mission to enhance our situational awareness of operations on the ground. We wanted to get out a couple of days before that, but we kept geting delayed for one reason or another.
This picture is a shot from the bow, looking aft on the "Coral Ark," an amazingly expensive boat that puts along at less than five knots (just a little over five MPH). The beauty of the Coral Ark lies in her ability to take 175 of us ashore at one time! A huge advantage over the 30 people per trip that we can take in our Hospitality Boats (those are the small boats that the ship uses to do normal ship to shore movements).
On the trip over, we passed a number of pretty impressive little "cottages" perched on the hills surrounding the beaches. And speaking of beaches! Wow! They are beautiful!
In downtown St. Johns, we were allowed to use the city's Multicultural Center close in to the center of town. It is without a doubt the nicest place we have had to work so far on this deployment! The center was built by the Chineese a little over 10 years ago, but like a lot of things in Antigua, it is showing its age. There are fountains inside that don't work, but the commodes did and there was fresh running water.
As you can see from these first pictures, the town is nice! Lots of flowers and very friendly people.
Heres a great picture! That's me standing next to the tent we erect to provide shade for our patients, and that's a huge Royal Carribean cruise line ship in the background.
This is a much more prosperous country than either of our previous stops. It is a small place to live, about 90,000 people in all, and in the first three days of our time here, we've been able to treat over 3,000 of them, and we've been able to book about 150 surgeries.
Check out the inside of the Multiculteral Center! This was such a nice place to work! It was spacious, they had privacy screens set up partitioning the space into treatment rooms. In addition to the space you see here, our Optometry clinic was upstairs in this building and our Surgery Clinic was further down the hall in a whole other partitioned room. But the thing that really set this building over the top was the fact that it is AIR CONDITIONED!! And it had working toilets complete with toilet paper!! Out of habit, we ordered a bunch of porta-potties for our staff, but i doubt that they were ever needed even once!
Then Big Al and I headed over to the Mental Hospital (I was going to see if they had an extra room, but turns out they were full!) Our SeaBees are rehabilitating the Women's ward at the hospital. They're repairing the roof, putting in new windows and doors, doing a bit of plumbing work and electrical work. I'm sure it will look great when they are done!
So now we've moved out of the city to one of our outlying Medical/Dental sites. This is a place known as All Saints, the second largest town on the island. It is about the size of Apalachin! We are going to have a team there for three days probably doing about 400 - 500 visits per day.
So who are these goofballs? Well, that's me on the right, CAPT Hardy in the middle, and Big Al on the left. CAPT Hardy is a team leader for one of our two Advanced Coordination Element (ACE) teams. They arrived in Antigua about 10 days before we got here, and they did a phenominal job in schmoozin the people who needed to be schmoozed, working with the husbanding agent to put together all of the locally procured things that we would need: Chairs, Tables, Tents, Bottled Water, a bunch of vehicles, drivers, etc. They are the grease that makes this whole thing work!
Then we went back down town in time to catch the Air Force Band put on a two hour concert for not only the Antiguans, but to a lot of the visitors who had arrived on that big cruise ship! They are really good! I hope you get a chance to hear them play some time! They are tremendously busy. They typically have at least one concert, sometimes two, nearly every day we're in country
Ah, now there's a shot! Your's Truly during the flight today out to the island of Barbuda. Antigua is actually the Commonwealth of Antigua Barbuda. They are very different islands, but only located about 25 miles apart. About a 20 minute helecopter ride over some really pretty water!
So, me being the Captain, I got my pick of seat, and the best seat on the flight, at least I thought, was the rear, starboard seat facing forward. The doors would be open during the flight and I could lean out the door and get some really cool pictures. There's only one problem. I forgot about how windy that seat is. The people sitting next to me were able to open their goggles and sit comfortable in the seat. I had to spend most of my time holding my goggles in place because so much wind was blowing up under the goggles that I could hardly see! Plus, I have a bad head cold and the wind was making my nose run like a faucet! Oh well, it was still fun!
So this is the island of Barbuda. It is flat as a pancake. Their prime industry has been three tourist resorts that have all now closed and they don't know if any of them will be opening again. If you're looking to buy a Carribean resort, now might be a good time!
This is the one and only airstrip on the island. It is the narrowest runway I have ever landed on. it would be hard pressed for two cars to pass each other on the runway! We were dropped off here and had about 20 minutes on the ground while LCDR Welch got behind the stick for a little refresher flying. I guess it had been about six months since he flew last. So I got to spend a little time on the ground and got together with our Point of Contact on the island who has been a great help in helping us coordinate the visit to Barbuda.
This might give you an idea of what the beaches look like: All around the entire perimeter of the island, crystal white beaches!
And then it was time to go home, so we climbed in our multi-million dollar twin jet engine MH-60 helicopter, probably a product of Lockheed Martin in Owego, NY where my brother-in-law whips people to keep them working at an unfair wage! Great Job, John! Keep up the good work!
Now, if you look at the picture to the left, you will see the "Aft House" which is a section of the ship back near the smokestack with five rectangular windows across the front. Well, the last window to your right is my stateroom. That's where I am right now wrighting this thrilling account of the last couple of days.
So then as we were approaching the ship, I took a couple of shots of the Mighty COMFORT on our way back to the flight deck. I owe a big thank you to the crew of HSC-26, our helicopter detachment attached to the ship. I also owe them something else! They let me experience some of the capabilities of the helo as they did some hard yankin' and bankin'! It was like riding in a real cool rollercoaster. Nothing too over the top, but it made for an exciting trip!
Well, one more day is done. It is almost midnight, I've been working on this for well over two hours. I have a nasty cold and I took some medicine for it, so it I say something stupid in here tonight, give me a day or two to correct it!!
Five more days in Antigua then we are off to a much deserved liberty port in Cartagena, Colombia! I'm planning on staying on the ship each night. Since Debbie isn't able to be here with me, I don't feel like spending $160 for a room all to my lonesome. So, I'll go out for dinner, maybe go shopping for some good coffee, and then come back to the ship for the night. OK, enough for now!