Southern’s latest missive arrives following liberty call in Rhodes as the Truman CSG is headed home. Having spent some time batting about the Aegean Sea in an LST for a midshipman cruise and liberty in Athens (a very long time ago – and yes, there is a story courtesy our airwing buds from the VAQ outfit we’ll have to get around to one of these days…) we can say that is one of the prettiest areas in the world and surely a welcome relief following the months in the forge (aka Arabian Gulf). – SJS
So we have traded off with our relief, the USS Abraham Lincoln and CVW-2 about a few weeks ago after that we made the transit south the Arabian Peninsula. There was talk as we neared the Somalia and Yemeni coastlines whether we were going to spend a few days hunting for pirates. Anti-piracy operations have become a big thing in this stage of the war on terrorism. There is belief in the region and portions of West Pacific along with along the Central and South American coastlines that various terror networks (whether it is FARC, Al Qaeda, or various rebel groups in South East Asia) are using piracy and ransoming crews, boats, cargoes as a way to finance their operations. So we are working with in the frame work of various international agreements such as the UN or NATO in that area of the Indian Ocean which separates the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean. Various nations ships are out there doing their best to hunt down pirates and attempt to capture them. It is very long and complicated work. With a carrier providing over the horizon eyes for the surface group it is a little easier.
However, due to tasking requirements in the 6th Fleet region we didn’t hang around that long and made the transit in the Red Sea about five days after doing our turn over and got prepped for the transit back through the Suez Canal. Once we got through the Suez, I started to breath a little easier. Why you ask? Mainly because on my last two deployments the powers to be above me decided they needed two carriers in the region. The first time was because of September 2001, the other time was in 2005 when due to tsunami relief our departure from the gulf was held up for a month to allow another relief carrier to show up.
I don’t know if you have been paying attention to the news, but right now the big debate is about how many aircraft carriers we need and the working communities are being combed for officers to help contribute to a new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). (we have and we are well acquainted with the QDR draft, having suffered through the ’01 iteration, both pre-/post-9/11… – SJS) If I would recommend to you and your dear readers, have them write or contact their congressional critters about increasing funding for carriers. I don’t say this because I work on and around them. Rather they are a real boon to our capabilities for national diplomacy and to influence events ashore. Just for example the extra sixty days we spent out to sea before hitting a port just recently we spent it flying in support of the Iraqi’s Army control of Basra and the US Forces push on Sadar City. We were doing this while airfields ashore we shut down due to heavy weather. We actually doubled up on sorties because of these weather issues, just in my own squadron. Because the Marine EA-6B Prowler outfit ashore had their airfield shut down for hail a couple of days and for heavy thunderstorms for about a week and half. Meanwhile we were steaming in clear skies and sun all the time in the gulf. Enough of the soap boxing.
Anyhow, once through the ditch like I said I started to relax because that means we are actually going home. One of the diplomacy things we did recently was fly members of the Israeli Parliament and military command, along with the US Ambassador onboard to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel. Interesting historical note, Harry S. Truman was the first world leader in the western world to recognize the state of Israel along with the state of Palestine, way back there in 1948. So portions of our air wing flew with some of the Israeli Air Force and did the usual bit of showing off for other nations. Letting the VIPs stand right on the foul line as some aircraft took off from a catapult, then back to the finger to watch the LSO’s do their voodoo and watch as a carrier landing occur. The fighter attacks guys did some of their usually tricks. Such as fly bys at the transonic range where we didn’t see them until they went booming over our heads during a FOD walk. Did a FOD walk so they could meet members of the crew. Again the usual things involved with a Carrier Strike Group’s type of public relations and diplomacy. The VIP’s didn’t stay onboard for the night they went home during a special 1900 cat launch.
The day after that we pulled into Rhodes, Greece. Rhodes is famous for having one of the seven wonders of the ancient world over its harbor. It was called the Colossus of Rhodes and depending on which history you read it was either a statue of Zeus, Neptune (I know, I know it is the Roman name but I can’t remember the Greek name), or Hercules. This huge statue according to history that I have read stood about as tall as a ten story building and was a huge light house. It was destroyed during an earthquake. The big attraction though is what the locals call Old town which is this old city that is in side a huge castle. It honestly looks like something that could be picked up and transported back about twenty centuries. Most of the main shopping district is in what could of been the traditional trading sections of the city. In other parts there are people living in buildings that have been built and rebuilt over the various years due to invasions or acts of god. There are also something over 30 different churches in the city. Half of them are dedicated to various saints of the Greek Orthodox Christianity, but there are also two Mosques near one wall of the city and a synagogue at another end of the town. So it really an amazing town to walk through and shop in.
As for the rest of the island it is set up primarily to be a vacation island. Think of some of the other major cities like Falraiki or Lindos as something similar to Virginia Beach, Key West, or Panama City. There are some awesome beaches to hang out on. We arrived during while it was still the off season so a good portion of the resort areas were still closes. I have been here before when it was at the height of tourist season. What happens is that people from continental Europe head to Rhodes as a vacation spot or they take a cruise liner that stops here for a few days and let loose. My last time here trying to be shore patrol was complicated. Because you would see some one doing the fireman carry on someone else who is passed out drunk and then just when your ready to ask for a liberty card or ID, one hears a smattering of Norwegian or Czech. We were only in town for three days, I spent most of my time in old town hunting for some last minute souvenirs and just sight seeing. One of the big attractions in old town is something called a moat walk. Which is where you walk between the inner and outer walls of the city. From start to finish it is something like 6 miles around. My liberty bud and myself started about the half way mark and walked about three miles near the end of our last day in port. It was a nice day and along with a pretty decent walk. One of the other big things to check out in old town, though it was closed when we got there, was a series of buildings where seventeen French knights had settled who were influential in building the first stone castle. According to what I had read they were Crusaders who after being stuck in Rhodes on the way to the holy land were decided it was too nice of a place to make cash for their own lands back home. So they build homes and from their changed an old Roman fort into a castle similar to what was being build in the Normandy region of France where they were from. These knights and their relatives held on till they were replaced by the Ottomans in 1400’s who owned the island until the end of the World War 1, when the British came in and helped the Kingdom of Greece re-establish themselves. The Greeks had the island until the government fell to the Italians during World War 2. There was actually talk of trying to recapture the island but that was decided against it and the idea of just going after Italy was supposed to be easier.
Now we are in the downward side of cruise and it is really hard to keep motivation levels up since the end is so close. There are times where we are trying to song and dance in front of our CPO’s and Officers that the gripes should be worked when we get home. Their response is that we can relax when the airlift touches down at home base back in Whidbey Island. So there is that minor fight which right now the discussion that whether or not a gripe is a serious downer and will prevent the airplane from flying off when we get near to home port. On top of that we were told that around the time of the Indy 500 our mail will start to go back to our hangar and be waiting for us there. Right now, myself and my LPO are working hard at trying to figure out how we are going to pack up everything that we unpacked at the start of cruise. As you know coming back from a vacation the luggage never seems to fit back together the same way as it was starting the vacation.
Well that is about it for right now out here. Hope you all are having fun and will enjoy this upcoming work week.
Southern Air Pirate
Article Series - Postcards from Deployment
- Postcards from Deployment
- Postcards from Deployment: A Sailor’s Thoughts
- Postcards from Deployment: Groundhog Day – Portcall Abu Dubai
- Postcards From Deployment: 24/7
- Postcards from Deployment: Don’t Do Stupid Things
- Postcards from Deployment: “Strange FOD”
- Postcards From Deployment – Not So Fast Folks…
- Postcards from Deployment: Coming Home (?)
- Postcards From Deployment: Coming Home II
- Postcards From Deployment: “This is a Drill, This is a Drill …”
- Postcards from Deployment: Homeward Bound (I)