Friday, October 12, 2012

Into the belly of a ship

WHEN I agreed to join the Bosslift Program of the ESGR last month, it did not cross my mind that I’d have a chance to board a visiting military ship.
ship exteriorI arrived at the dock a few minutes late and was expecting to see the Coast Guard Cutter Washington or a small boat that would bring us to one of those prepositioning ships seen from Beach Road.
Instead, a ports police officer handed me an ID at the gate and pointed me to one of the two military ships anchored at the dock — the USS McCampbell (DDG-85), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that arrived the day before.
Hurrying up the three flights of wooden stairs and crossing a swaying gangplank, I caught up with my companions just before the orientation started.
While off-duty sailors were busy signing log books so they could get off the ship and explore the island, our guide, Ens. Jacob Huntley, identified the equipment and apparatus we saw in the hallways and on the deck. I was unable to give him my full attention. The tour was fast-paced and I was busy shooting photos and videos of everything and anything while trying to watch my steps and catching up with the group.
hangarSoon we were navigating through a labyrinth of narrow hallways and climbing up and down winding flights of very steep stairs with heavy doors at the end that opened to more stairs. I needed more time just to find my way through the confusing maze of narrow cubicles. We eventually reached the navigation room where the ship’s operation took place — a small room full of knobs and consoles that monitored and plotted the course of the ship.
Looking at pictures online and just reading about USS McCampbell cannot be compared to actually going into the “belly” of the ship and seeing how it operates.
We checked out the supply rooms and also got a glimpse of the sailors’ quarters from the narrow hall lined with fire extinguishers.
Unlike luxury cruise ships where everything spells comfort, everyone on USS McCampbell had to move in a single file. The ship only had the bare necessities.
mess hallWe visited the officers’ dining room with its clean and polished wooden tables before proceeding to the mess hall of the sailors with its blue seats and tables topped with cream-colored tablecloths.
But perhaps dining in the general mess hall was more fun. It looked like any regular cafeteria with a giant coffeemaker and huge TV screens on the walls.
We waved at three sailors who were having a leisurely meal at one of the tables before moving on. I had no idea where we were already but once again we went up to more flights of stairs before emerging on the deck.
Huntley took us to our last destination — the place where the helicopter was kept and the deck used as a hangar. The deck was protected by railings connected with thick knotted ropes. From the deck, the Saipan lagoon stretched before us.
We also learned that this powerful ship had a visit, board, search and seizure team to conduct anti-piracy, anti-smuggling and anti-terrorist operations.
Homeported in Japan as part of the U.S. Navy’s Forward Deployed Naval Forces, the USS McCampbell was named after Capt. David McCampbell, the Navy’s leading ace during World War II.