Friday, May 3, 2013

Anchors aweigh …

The ship is here; the ship is here.  Welcome.
Hooray, hooray, today's the first of May, officially known as May Day. It's a very special day in the City of Anchorage as the USS Anchorage arrived. The 684-foot ship is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship, and is the second U.S. Navy ship to be named for our city.

The ship docked at the Port of Anchorage.
The USS Anchorage arrived here to be commissioned in her namesake town. And special to me, and about 50 others is that the local Harley Owners Group chapter was allowed a private tour. Yahoo.
Some of us were wearing the special edition shirt the Harley shop had made for the USS Anchorage's arrival.
The HOGs all gathered down by the Comfort Inn near Ship Creek, in the heart of downtown Anchorage about 6:30 p.m. Hobbs rode down with me, but had no intention of going on the ship or the tour. Hobbs (AKA Biker Bill) says the ship is nothing more than a taxi cab for the Marine Corp. He said every time he's ever gotten on a military ship it's always taken him someplace he didn't want to be, dropped him off, and never came back to pick him up. So he elected to stay with the bikes and keep an eye on them.

The bus took us to the port where we'd board the ship.  With all our carrying on it's a wonder Randy, the bus driver, didn't toss our butts to the curb.
There were special busses to take us down to the Port. In order to board we had to show identification, then onto the bus we went. The driver, Randy, said there'd been a 45-minute delay onboard the ship, so when we got to the holding area (outside in view of the ship), we ended up standing around for probably that same amount of time.
But HOG folks are very good at entertaining themselves ... taking photos, jumping into someone else's photos, telling bad jokes.  HOGs just wanna have fun.  And they do.
There were other private tours happening so in order for us to board the ship we had to wait for them to siphon other groups through. It appeared we were the last group of the evening, which turned out to be the best since we didn't get off the ship til sometime after 9:30 p.m.
Finally, going up the gangplank to the ship. 

Welcome aboard.
This helicopter and a vertical take-off aircraft were setting on deck, on the stern of the ship.
As we boarded, we could see a landing area with a helicopter and an Osprey, which is a vertical take-off and landing, fixed-wing aircraft. It can land and take off like a helicopter but once airborne the propellers are rotated and moved into place so it flies like a regular aircraft. What a fascinating piece of machinery that was.
The Osprey is one exciting piece of machinery.  Sure would like a ride in one of those.
We were allowed to roam through both aircraft, and it was a thrill to be able to see what they're all about. They were sitting on the flight deck, which is about an acre in size, but there's an area inside the ship where they can be transported in the event of bad weather so there's no chance of them being washed or falling overboard.
My favorite photo of Pam looking out of the helicopter.
Okay, this is a HOG ride.  We're ready for take off. 
Then we were taken inside. There's what appears to be a full hospital with operating rooms, x-ray machines and the like, which is necessary when housing hundreds of Navy and Marine personnel at sea.
For surgery at sea. 

No one signed up for x-rays this evening.
Frank sure did want to ring that ship's bell.
Stacey and Dennis stood near the ship's logo, notice the moose horns.
And Lauren makes the moose horns look even better.
We saw berths where the personnel sleep, red curtains for the Marines, blue for the Navy folks.
What can I say?  Red rules.  Semper fi.
We got to wander through the galley and the mess hall, and found that someone had discovered one of the best pizza places in town – the Moose's Tooth. There must have been a dozen pizza cartons setting around.
Part of the mess hall.  Very clean, and comfortable looking.

Julie found the lunch trays, but she didn't get a free lunch on board.
Up on another deck, I could look over the bow of the ship.  What a nice view.

Here and there we'd be given information about various parts of the ship.  Inside this area (where we did not go) was a no-photo zone. 
The tour continued up steep little stairwells, through what are called hatches, into the control room (although we weren't allowed to photograph there), onto the bridge, into the pilot house.

Ed did not take the life preserver.  He may have been thinking about it.  But then we saw the lady with the gun. 
Just in case one might forget, there are guns located in many locations on board.  Yes, Virginia, this is a warship.
Along the way one was reminded that this was a warship as there were various guns located on the outer decks.
This was just the best photo with Becky and a Navy person at her gunnery station.
Of course, I had to pose with as many of them as possible.  (More of that later.)

Navy and Marine personnel on board were more than happy to share their ship with us during the evening. 
The pilot house has a GPS, but mostly the crew relies on maps … because they're more reliable. I well know that, having travelled with folks who use GPSs. They're only as good as the information that goes into them, including that gained from maps. But still, using technology on this ship is quite a change from some of the older ships and what they used to navigate. Think sun, moon and stars, going way back to when the earth was “flat.”

Barry was sitting in a chair on the bridge, ready to weigh anchor and lead us off on a sunset cruise.

One of the many computers in the pilot house.
As we moved through the various areas, you could see rows of cable above your head. Our guide was asked how much of it there was. The response, “About 30,000 miles.” I could remember that number only because that's about what I ride every year. That's a lot of cable.

Now we're to the good stuff, compliments of the Marines.  Humvees, eight-wheeled land assault vehicles, a hover craft.
Two of the Marines struck a pose for me.  This one's for you, Hobbs.
Then we moved into the areas with the “good” stuff, the Humvees, track vehicles, the howitzer. This might be a man's world of goodies, but I was totally enthralled. And … had to the go ahead by the crew to climb on, get in, go on top, pretty much run rampant. And I did.

Heather and I were on top, ready to kick some butt.  Yep, we were feeling pretty tough!

Down the hatch.

My beady little eyes are behind this piece of glass ... watching you.  How on earth does anyone see anything out of these things, much less be able to find a target, or even the road? 

I was at the back of the pack since I was busy getting in and out of all the equipment.  Then one of the Marines said they bet I'd like this ... I turned around, and there was this 23-pound gun, a squad automatic weapon, with a bipod.  Oh yeah.  I was loving it.

Then we saw the M777 howitzer.  Who says bigger isn't better?  We were showed the shell (which would weigh I think they said 95 pounds), and how they load it and shoot it.  It has a usual range of about 8 miles, but up to a bit more than 20 if necessary and probably depending on the size of the charge.  Whatever.  Very impressive.
One of the vehicles had a helmet in it, with a sound suppression system as well.  Even they have to wear helmets and they're quite protected inside these vehicles.
I got inside this vehicle, too, but time was running out, so it was a quick run in and out again.
There's a lot of big equipment on this ship, contained in a huge parking and maintenance area.  A deck section can be flooded so hovercraft, boats or amphibious assault vehicles can enter through giant doors on the stern.
And then, suddenly we looked around, and there were only a few of us left. Everyone else had left the ship and we were being herded off. The tour was incredible, the time spent fun and informative. What an opportunity, and I believe one that was enjoyed by all of us who were able to make the event.

Julie looking down at me as we wound our way back up to disembark.  There were a lot of steps up and down again, a lot of decks.  But it was fun and so worth all the exercise we got.

We were leaving and the military folks were returning.  What a day, a great day!!
 The ship's keel was laid down Sept. 24, 2007 at the Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans. She was launched Feb. 12, 2011, christened May 14 of that year and will be commissioned in Anchorage May 4, 2013, at which time she will officially join the Navy's fleet. When she leaves Anchorage she will return to her home base of San Diego.

4395 sailors returning to the ship