Arabian Gulf 2011

I recently had the opportunity to fly to Bahrain and back to do an inspection on a CVN in the Arabian Gulf. Here are some brief notes from the trip.

22 January (Sat)

I flew with the inspection team from Norfolk airport to Dulles (IAD) at 1500. The flight from Dulles was non-stop flight to Kuwait (just 45 min more to Manama, Bahrain). As luck would have it (and for the first time in my life), I had enough frequent flier miles to upgrade from coach/steerage to Business Class without having to pay an additional fee.

The flight to Kuwait City from Dulles was a little over 12 hours, but it was most bearable since I was able to upgrade to Business Class. As my father has said in the past, one could easily get used to flying that way (recliner seat with foot rest, toiletries bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, little socks/slippers, and eye mask). Not so impressive: in flight entertainment was not so hot (Aer Lingus for my trip to Ireland last summer was better), food was okay (free wine was lost of me), and the headphone jack was non-standard so I could not use my noise canceling ear phones. 

I did not use my iPad once because I had a book (I only brought one hard copy book) and I did not stay awake long after dinner because I was using my “how to sleep well on a plane” process (see separate blog post). I started watching "The Expendables," but stopped because it was BAD. I switched over to "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," which was a lot better than any of the descriptIons I have read about it (based on a graphic novel, strange/amusing/clipped dialog that is hard to understand the first time you hear it, and lots of special effects and graphics (like a comic book)). I  slept quite well for the 4-5 hours that I did sleep (the guy next to me clearly did not follow the Ralph Soule "How to get good sleep on overnight airplane flights" protocol since he hardly seemed to doze at all and never fully reclined his seat (can you say "hello to feeling like a zombie on arrival"?). From the phone conversation he was having before takeoff from Dulles, he sounded a bit tightly wound so it may not have mattered anyway. 

23 Jan (Sun)

Other than needing to take a shower upon arrival in Bahrain, I felt very good.

We got a ride from the ship’s beach detachment and checked into the hotel (Gulf Hotel Bahrain, http://www.gulfhotelbahrain.com/). The apartment into which they placed me had a dining room table, full kitchen, and lounge area. The biggest challenge at this hotel is deciding where to eat among the Japanese, Thai, Mexican, Lebanese, Chinese, Iranian, Italian, and "other" restaurants (see the web link). I have taken some pictures around the hotel that I will post to soon.

There was no Wi-Fi in the room (wired only), so I  had to rent access to the service in the lobby. While sitting near the registration desk, I saw MM1 Dougherty (now Ensign Dogherty), with whom I worked in Pearl Harbor and recommended for a commissioning program. He actually saw me sitting on the comfy couch and let me know that he was accepted for the information Warfare Professional (IP for short) program, went to school at University of Idaho (Moscow) for two years, and is now back in the "fleet" as an IP. He thanked me for the recommendation letter I wrote for him in Pearl Harbor and told me that one of the officers that reviewed his application said that it was very distinctive and made him stand out among the other candidates. This is one of the most satisfying things about being a senior officer and getting to make these recommendations: meeting the people years later and learning how they took advantage of the opportunity.

We had to wait until Tuesday to fly to the ship because the airport is closed on Monday. To improve my speed of acclimation to the 8 hour time zone difference, I stayed awake until about 2300.

24 Jan (Mon)

I slept until about 0800 and then used the gym to run and lift weights (very good after so many hours sitting on the plane). I can run a lot faster on the treadmill than when I am running at my natural pace, but sometimes I get flashbacks of the Jetsons thinking what might happen if I fall off the back of the treadmill (has not happened yet).

I got to the restaurant that serves a breakfast buffet just before the buffet closed. Goodness, but what a well-stocked buffet! Eggs to order, pancakes, fried tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, sausage (pork and lamb), bacon (beef and pork), varieties of olives, breads, and cheese, Middle Eastern food I did not recognize, orange and carrot juice, fruit (canned pears, peaches, lychees  as well as fresh berries, melon, grapefruit), a whole table of fresh pastries, yogurt, salmon, and many other foods I did not recognize. Since I got to the restaurant 10 minutes before the buffet closed, I just filled up two plates of stuff and wolfed.

After breakfast, I wandered around a bit and took some pictures, then spent much of the day in the lounge with a piano (in addition to the main lobby where you check in, they have two other lounges) using the wi-fi access card I purchased. Even though internet was available in my room, it was not wi-fi and my MacBook air does not have a connection for hard-wired LAN access.

I took my wife's advice and went to the Japanese restaurant (Sato) and ordered Teppanyaki (gas-fired iron griddle to cook the food like at the Japanese restaurant around the corner from our house). I told the cook I liked the food spicy so he did a great job of adding dry, Japanese hot powder of some sort. Of course, the meal also included miso soup.

Before dinner, I learned that we would not have to depart the hotel until Tuesday 0600 since the estimate for the flight was 0715 (never try to set your clock by military flight arrival and departure times). This meant I was able to go to bed a little later (after watching the last 30 minutes of so of "Enemy of the State") so I would be more likely to sleep longer despite the time zone change. I slept from 2200 until nearly 0400 (I had planned to get up at 0430 anyway to depart my room at 0530). This gave me some extra time to arrange clothes inside my rolling suitcase so I could change to boots from running shoes and my more soil/hydraulic fluid resistant pants for the flight to the carrier.

25 Jan (Tues) 

We checked out of the hotel at 0530 (some of our team of 17 came down a bit later) and were able to go right to the restaurant at 0600 when it opened. The food was still excellent, but this morning I was able to order an omelet (yesterday I just had scrambled eggs from the big pan available). We took the van operated by the ship’s beach detachment ("beach det" for short) at 0635 and drove to the "base," actually just a few buildings and trailers. While we were cooling our heels in the lounge waiting for our flight, I was able to use one of the three computers on the back wall of the lounge to send some email updates to my family.

We took a bus out to a remote corner of the airport to the NavyC-2A Greyhound (for more info on these planes, see the link below) that was to take us to the ship. We received life vests (unlike commercial airliner practice, you have to wear the vests in flight going to a Navy ship) and "cranials" (see below link for picture) that include hearing protection because the engines of the C-2A are *loud*. The flight itself was uneventful. I read on my iPad and was chilly at first then toasty as they cranked up the heater.

We made it to the ship after a 2.5 hour flight. I hardly noticed because I was reading on my iPad (handy due to poor light in side the C-2A). I took off my cranial (like having a vice on your head after about 30 minutes) after we reached altitude and replaced it with my noise canceling headphones. It was a very smooth flight, except for the part where we landed on the ship, were caught by the arresting wire (I am glad that happened like it was supposed to), and all my internal organs slammed up against my spine (a very strange feeling indeed). I think many people would pay for that opportunity and to think they Navy *pays me* to do it. Wow!

As we walked from the plane inside the ship, they shepherded us to the Commanding Officer's in port cabin for refreshments (watermelon, pineapple, sandwiches (no crust), and little drumsticks. The CO (who I have served with before) let me stay in his in port cabin (Serta mattress and all), which was totally unexpected. Another first in my career. I also got to use the CO's office that has a monitor on the wall showing planes as they take off and land so I can hear the engines roaring (their engines are at full thrust for takeoff) above me as the planes are about to launch and then see them take off on the monitor. Amazing.

Well, we did the inspection "in brief" (what everyone else might call an introduction) for the ship's leadership (I was late because I forgot to advance my watch one hour on arrival, the ship was slightly east of Bahrain).

I decided to walk the propulsion plants because the maintenance inspection is just getting started and there is not much for me to do the first day. I stopped by the Reactor office prior to going to the plants to let the Reactor Officer (RO) know I was going to walk around (otherwise he would have received frantic calls from watch standers about "a strange Captain wandering the propulsion plant" - I know how these things go) and he decided to walk with me and we talked about how his assignment is going.

Navy C-2A Greyhound info:

http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=1100&tid=100&ct=1

Navy flight deck cranial picture

http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/usmc-navy-flight-deck-cranial-surplus-marine

26 Jan (Wed) to 28 Jan (Fri)

There was not much time to spare during the inspection. The inspectors and I were at it at 0700 through 2200 and sometimes much later. The team worked out of the Learning Resource Center (01-84-4-L) and got great support from the crew. I went on several spot checks to learn how the inspectors operate and how the checks were going.

I spent some time mentoring the Reactor Training Assistant about how to make the training program more interesting and improve engagement. I brought a CD of files and sent him many (after we talked about them). The RO wanted me to do a presentation on the ED community for junior officers (which I did on Thursday) and I volunteered to do Challenger training on Friday, 28 Jan, which just happened to be the 25th anniversary of the disaster. I have the file available for anyone who wants to view it (lots of notes). 

Late Friday night,we concluded that the ship had passed the inspection (yay!).

29 Jan (Sat) (Pam's Bday, thank goodness for flowers.com)

The team and I departed the CVN  at 1430 (1130 bags dropped off, 1230 safety video covering equipment to wear and how to wear/use it ["cranial" and life preserver], emergency egress [before/after takeoff]. life rafts, use of four point safety harnesses [not seat belts], and catapult procedures), 1400 departure. 2.5 hour flight to Manama airport in Bahrain, van ride to Gulf Hotel Bahrain. I made sure to get Wi-Fi in the room this time. I stayed up until 2230 (after eating a huge meal at the Lebanese restaurant in the hotel). I also used the treadmill in the gym (very nicely equipped) for about 30 minutes.

30 Jan (Sun)

I got up at 0330 (part of the Ralph Soule preflight sleep deprivation plan) and then worked on the computer/iPad until 0900 when I went to work out again. After working out, I went to the breakfast buffet and then back to my room. Because i had gotten up so early, I had trouble staying awake so I made myself a few cups of team in the room and that seemed to help. Late check out was 1600 so I finished repacking my clothes and met the other members of the team (just two of them) that were flying back to the US with me in the lobby (the others were staying for a training opportunity on another carrier). I was just going to wait in the lobby and use the computer and read until the van was schedule to take us to the airport at 1900 for our 2155 flight, but several of the inspectors were taking the hotel shuttle to Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain  and asked if I wanted to go along. I did.

NSA Bahrain is larger than I thought it would be. We walked from the gate to the NEX complex, which is quite large. It is not as big as in Pearl Harbor or Norfolk, but bigger than I expected. The reason the CPOs like to go there for dinner is that there is a Food Court at the NEX and the food there is *much* less expensive than at the hotel (my dinner was $4.50 vs about $30 at the hotel). I bought a scarf for you, Pam, but I had to pick it out at the vendor's kiosk, pay for it at the NEX, then go back to the vendor to pick it up and I forget the last step as I made a quick break after paying to look at the computers at the NEX (only 40 feet away). Drat! I caught the 1720 shuttle back to the hotel and was working so intently on my MacBook that I hardly noticed that the time of 1900 had arrived and it was time to go to the airport.

The Bahraini airport security was an interesting experience. I had to take a quiz (verbal) before I could check in. It was very similar to the "did you pack your own bags, have they been under your control, did you accept anything from strangers" bit you get when you check bags (which I have not done in so long I had forgotten these are the standard questions-they don't ask you when you only have carry on bags and do self-check in), but much more challenging hearing the questions from someone for whom English is a second language so I had to have a few of the questions repeated.

Next we went to the baggage X-ray machines. After my bags were scanned, at security official made me open my carry on bag and she proceeded to unpack nearly everything (not quite, but it felt like it and it was close to torture watching her unzip all my bags (okay, I have a lot) and rearrange all the stuff in my bag that I had packed so carefully) - most bothersome, but I got over it. We next proceeded near the gate (they wouldn't let us sit at the gate for reasons that became clear about an hour before departure. In the middle of the hallway, they set up *another* screening area, just without the X-ray machine, but it did include two personnel at podiums (like the TSA here) and tables behind them where someone had to go through your baggage a *second* time, exactly the same way they did after going through the X-ray. Argh!

We boarded the 777 and took off right on time (it happens so infrequently it is worth remarking when it does happen). The flight from Manama to Kuwait (pronounced "cue-wait" by the British) was nearly empty and only took 45 minutes with some really bad turbulence in route. We had to disembark while they "serviced" the plane (putting on lots of food and the blankets and pillows). I chose not to upgrade to Business class as it would have cost me $395 (an in-flight Barcalounger is nice, but not *that* nice), but I did get "Economy Plus" seating that had about 5 inches of extra leg room and that was nice. We re-boarded the plan at 0000 and departed shortly thereafter for the 13h 23m flight to Dulles. I sat next to an Army National Guardsman/Reservist (he says the Army cannot seem to make up its mind what to call his unit) that does security for senior officers (not their main mission, but one they do all the time) from Las Vegas that has been in Iraq for 6 months and was coming back on leave for two weeks before doing his next 6 months. 60 - 90 minutes after take off, they served us a big meal (a very odd practice for helping you sleep on a long flight, but the alternative would be to let people get to sleep and wake them up later for the big meal so I guess they have no choice). I watched the movie "Aladdin" since it has been a long time since I've seen it and it was the best movie available (yuk) and then dropped into unconsciousness sometime between 02 and 0300 and slept for nearly six hours so the flight passed quickly enough. The only point of discomfort was my feet. Your feet tend to swell in the air and my high arches tried to poke through my running shoes (laced pretty snug most of the time for running, but I thought I loosened them enough - WRONG). Next overnight flight, which should be Ireland in April, I am going to get some more comfy slippers that fold up really small (wearing running shoes was a bad plan). I did some browsing tonight on the web and have a few models in mind.

31 Jan (Mon)

The flight arrived in Dulles at about 0630. I passed through US Customs in Dulles without incident and then waited about an hour for my flight to San Diego (non-stop). I slept a bit, but only about half of the flight time. We arrived a little early and I met a friend Nate for lunch (Casa Guadalajara in Old Town) and we talked for over two hours. I came to Coronado to check into the hotel (it took me some time to find the registration facility, but that was my own fault for not reading the help info someone sent me). I was just about to get into the shower to clean up when I realized that it was late enough after lunch that I should go for a run first. I ran for 36 min and it felt sooo good after sitting all that time. After cleaning up, I talked to one of my mentors on the phone and then went to Rubios at the NEX food court (my son Beau and I used to go there often). I briefly considered going to the movies, but I was not interested in either of the shows playing so I have been composing this email since I got back to the room (the Enterprise suite at the North Island BOQ).

1 Feb (Tues)

I worked all day at the CNAP N43 offices. They put me in a small office they have for guests and I attended briefings and participated in phone calls all day. From 1700- 2000, I sorted through my outstanding email (I could not access in during the trip overseas). I stayed up a little late to do laundry at the BOQ because I had used up nearly all my clean clothes.

2 Feb (Wed)

I woke up early to go to the gym (right across the street from CNAP buildings), an important thing to do before sitting all day. I got there just before 0600, but it opens at 0400 like most military gyms. I used the treadmill for 30 min. While I did not get thrown off the back, my iPod touch did because I dropped it trying to hook up my headphones while running (probably not the best strategy). Fortunately, no one was injured as it rocketed off the back of the treadmill.

My return flight was through Atlanta so I was not impacted by the midwestern snow storm. Pam picked me up from Newport News airport at 2100.