Monday, March 15, 2010
In the Navy, we frequently refer to some event in the future as being "X number of days and a wake-up." If something was going to happen a week from now, we would refer to that as "seven days and a wake-up!"
We left Haiti on the evening of March 9th headed for Norfolk. At that time we were "Four days and a wake-up!" Then we had a propulsion plant casualty that left us dead in the water for four hours. For three hours and 59 minutes, my only thought was, "How many days now?" Then, the problem was fixed, and we were off again!
On Wedensday, March 10th, President Obama had a news conference in the Rose garden, attended by two of our crew from COMFORT, where he talked about Haiti, and we watched him, thinking, "Three days and a wake-up!"
On Thursday, we had an MWR day on the flight deck (MWR stands for Morale, Welfare and Recreation). This was basically a chance for people to recreate a little, play some basketball and football and never forget that we were "Two days and a wake-up."
On Friday, we finalized all the plans for our arrival in Norfolk, including all of the VIPs who would be visiting us and as all these details were falling into place, we couldn't help but think that it was only "One more day and a wake-up!"
So I went to bed Friday night, tingling from anticipation of the coming day! I couldn't wait to get to sleep, because then it would be Saturday! I laid down at 10:00pm and started to quickly drift off to sleep. Then at 10:05: 'Hooonnnnkkkkk' (A mind-numbing, bed shaking fog horn located about 30 feet behind and above my rack). Then at 10:07: 'Hooonnnnkkkk,' at 10:09: 'Hooonnnkkkk,' at 10:11: 'Hooonnnkkkk,' at 10:13: 'Hooonnnkkkk,' . . . at 05:59: 'Hooonnnkkkk!'
And then Saturday arrived. All that was left was the "Wake-up!" Reveille sounded at 0600 and the crew sprang to life. It was about 64 degrees in my stateroom that morning (A ship like the COMFORT doesn't shift quickly from the 90 degrees of Haiti to the 49 degrees of Norfolk!) I decided that it was time for the XO to do what he had admonished everyone to NOT do during the whole deployment! It was Hollywood shower time! Throughout this deployment, and the one before, I had repeatedly scolded the crew to conserve water!! For seven months of the last year, I have kept my showering to less than two minutes of water flowing per day: 30 seconds of getting wet! (Turn the water off) Lather up. One minute of rinsing off and you're done! But Saturday morning was a whole different world! No need to conserve water now! Time to truly indulge! So as I got in the shower Saturday, I couldn't help myself! This time, I waited for the water to warm up before I got in the shower! I spent nearly 30 seconds getting wet! Kept the water running for the 30 seconds that I lathered up, and then rinsed off for another minute! Now that was living!!
We were supposed to be pierside at 10:30am, but being the overachievers that we are, we were on track to arrive at 10:00am. But as the fog-horn continued to sound throughout the morning, it became apparent that we might have a problem. Whenever a ship like the COMFORT comes into port, she is met by a harbor pilot who guides the ship into the harbor. In Noroflk, there is also a pier pilot who takes us the last little distance and ensures the ship safely arrives at the pier. The problem is, you really need to be able to see the pier at some point before you hit it. The COMFORT weighs 69,000 Long Tons. That's about 151 Million pounds. When you get that much mass moving even very slowly, it can be hard to stop or redirect its movement.
As I was looking off the bridge toward the water, there were times when I couldn't see anything even 100 feet away from the ship. The fog was so thick that as we passed over the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel we couldn't see any sign of the roadway at all.
So we inched along at only about one mile per hour hoping that the clowds would part, the fog would lift and we would be able to see the pier. Finally, with the pier only a couple of hundred feet off the bow of the ship, it finally came into view and the skilled Mariners who drive this beast brought her in flawlessly to the pier.
My wife took these pictures from the shore as we arrived. The Red Cross on the front of the ship slowly appeared through the fog and as the ship slid slowly up to the pier, the clouds broke, the sun broke through and Saturday turned into a beautiful day!
Their were over 400 people waiting for our arrival and as soon as the ship was cleared by customs, they were all brought aboard to meet their family onboard the ship. It was quite a hoot!
Leading the families onto the ship were six Flag officers: Five Admirals and One General who all came to thank the crew of the Mighty COMFORT for their truly heroic efforts in support of OPERATION UNIFIED RESPONSE - HAITI. They said a few words, shook a few hands and soon were on their way. We set the watch, called away Liberty Call, and we all went ashore for the first time in 60 days.
So then we were in Norfolk, and about five days later, we sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and arrived at our home port in Baltimore. We were met by families, hundreds of school children, lots of media, and my dog, Ruffy. It was pretty special.
Now, suddenly, two months have passed and I found that I never actually published this blog entry. Well, better late than never.
Shortly after our return, the COMFORT family suffered a tragic loss: About two weeks after safely steering us through the fog to arrive in Norfolk, and then safely bringing us home to Baltimore, the ship's Master, Captain Bob Holley suffered a heart attack and died in his home in Virginia Beach, VA. A veteran Master of both hospital ships as well as a long career in the Military Sealift Command, Captain Holley will truly be missed by those who knew him.
So, now we are back in our Reduced Operating Status and the ship is a ghost ship again. We spend lots of time showing her off to all kinds of tour groups who come for visits, but the hustle and bustle that is so much a part of every day underway is gone.
I am getting short. (That's a Navy term for getting ready to transfer). My relief has been identified: Captain Kathy Becker, NC, USN. She will be arriving onboard at the beginning of July and I will turn over the reigns to her on or about July 12th. Then I will be off to my next assignment: Navy Medicine Training Center, Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas! Where I will get to take young skulls full of mush and turn them into the next generation of highly trained, highly skilled, dedicated professionals who will pick up the gauntlet and carry Navy Medicine into the future!
Of course, anything can happen between now and then and the crew of the COMFORT is ready to respond! It has been an honor to have been able to serve along side some of the most heroic, hard-working, never-say-quit people I have ever had the pleasure to know. I will miss them all!
And for you, dear readers, should this be my last blog entry as the XO of the Mighty COMFORT, I hope that you have enjoyed these posts and that they have given you a little insight into life onboard America's Most Prestigious Ship!
For now at least: XO Signing Off!