By Lex, on Sat – May 28, 2005
And it feels so good to be home. I just missed son number one, who’s headed to Norfolk for his summer midshipman training. He’ll be back in June, and maybe we can have a chat then. That’d be fun.
In the meantime, here’s a quick catch-up:
Two and a half weeks aboard an LHA would be enough to try a carrier pilot’s soul all by itself, but this last exercise was particularly wearying. Oh, it’s not just the differences between a NIMITZ-class aircraft carrier and an amphibious helicopter assault ship, although these are legion.
And, along the way I finally got my new set of orders – the three-star tug of war is now officially over – and I’ll be working for the one incredibly powerful, marvelously handsome, very senior naval officer, rather than the other one. Reminds me of a bit of dialogue between two mounted Arab tribesmen from “Lawrence of Arabia “:
Bedouin – “Where are we going?”
Other Bedouin – “We are going to Acra.”
Bedouin, after slight pause – “It is good.”
Other Bedouin, after careful consideration – “What is good?”
Bedouin – “It is good to know where we are going!”
Yes it is.
And, it’s not so very far from my current place of employ, which means that we get to keep making mortgage payments, the motorcycle knows the way to work and you will every so often be treated to further ululation about the appalling state of SoCal traffic flows. Because you know you want it, even if it doesn’t feel that way, right now.
So – d’ja miss me?
It’s funny – you go to sea for a while and the world will keep turning, even without you there to add your voice to the slipstream (I like to drop the occasional mixed metaphor in there, just to keep the language police alert).
We don’t much talk world events while at sea, because these days it’s precious close to politics. Politics, along with religion and (traditionally) the fairer sex are prohibited conversation at the wardroom table, and by extension elsewhere. All goes back to that “long periods / enforced proximity / just get along” thing I mentioned in para 1. So when the news broke, crested and ebbed about Korans being flushed down Cuban toilets, anonymous single sources, murderous clerics, dark murmurings from gerontacratic service secretaries about what people ought and ought not talk about, embarrassed retractions and second wave, main stream media, “Oh, yeahs ?” there was scarcely anyone with whom I could share my pithy observations and keen analytical insight.
So yeah, I sort of missed you too.
And since everything about that event has pretty much been said, even though I wasn’t there to participate in it (so much for existentialism, pace Sartre), I’ll only add that it should amaze me (but somehow doesn’t) that what could have been an opportunity to engage rational political Islam in some much needed introspection about the value of human life and the essential meaninglessness of symbols, at least when the latter is weighed against the former. But no, it’s become a game of righteous indignation from the navel-gazing opinion elite in their ongoing struggle against the Bushian forces of evil (cue: Vader theme):
The war on Newsweek shifted attention away from how the Guantanamo prisoners have been treated, how that treatment has affected the battle against terrorism and what American policies should be. Newsweek-bashing also furthered a long-term and so far successful campaign by the administration and the conservative movement to dismiss all negative reports about their side as the product of some entity they call “the liberal media.”
Maybe you’ve heard of this so-called “liberal media.” I’ve got no idea what he’s talking about, but then again I spent the last couple of weeks at sea, so it could have cropped up in the intervening period. But Dionne is staking his claim to class victimhood based on the latest report from the FBI, summarizing the indignant complaints of those worthies currently detained at Guantanamo:
So it turns out that the FBI has documents showing that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained about the mistreatment of the Koran and that many said they were severely beaten.The documents specifically include an allegation from a prisoner that guards had “flushed a Koran in the toilet.”
Well, gosh, that changes everything. I mean, these guys are only being detained down there because they’d like nothing better, taken as a whole, than to slit our collective throats in the name of world peace, jihadi-style. But no one has ever accused them of being liars, for pete’s sake.
Whew. I’m better now, thanks. I appreciate you being there for that. It couldn’t have been fun for you…
So – amphibs: Here’s the thing about amphibs – they’re fat and they’re slow and they spend a very great deal of time going nowhere, very slowly. A very great deal of time actually lolling around in close proximity to land. If you can believe that. Something to do with putting Marines ashore, or bringing them back aboard. Very often a combination of the two. And apparently that whole effort is simplified by loitering around with your fantail pointed to the beach, as though you hadn’t a care in the world about coastal defense cruise missile batteries or short range fighter bombers.
For a career fighter pilot and carrier guy, this seems painfully analogous to what we call “trolling,” i.e., hanging it out there, doing something dangerously stupid in order to start a fight. But for amphibs, that’s the name of the game. In a carrier, we may not be actually going anywhere, but we always seem to do it at flank speed.
Another thing about amphibs – they let the actual ocean into the ship!
And – they roll. A lot. More than you’d think they ought to, if there’s anything like a swell up. Comes with being flat-bottomed and shallow-drafted, the better to snuggle up ashore. In range of those cruise missile batteries. Not for the amphib your long, graceful pitch of the aircraft carrier, sovereign of the ocean sea. No. Rather a nervous, high frequency side-to-side movement that leaves you wondering at the odd moment as you are flung from side to side in your rack through the dark watches of the night whether the shipwrights had done their homework properly, with respect to center of gravity vs. center of buoyancy, and above all righting moments vs. critical angle. That force, in other words, whose tendency is to keep the dry parts up and the wet parts down. In the water. Where they belong.
And – they carry Marines, as I may have hinted. Lots of them. All of them hard, and many of them painfully young. Some of whom are getting ready for their second deployment in as many years. Some of whom have scars that they do not talk about, and about which we do not ask. These guys were at the gates of Fallujah last April, before they were called off. And they are the most important part of the strike group’s offensive capability, and so we mere Navy officers and carrier guys did the very best we could to integrate the new defensive firepower of the Expeditionary Strike Group, turds in the senior ranks or no.
The commanding officer of the attached cruiser made a comment in one of the morning VTC’s that captured the spirit well, when he was talking about a fire support mission using his five inch guns: “I’d empty the magazines for one Marine in trouble on the beach.”
Yeah. That’s exactly right.
Least we could do.