[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]
Friday, March 16
Hello Danamaniacs, Coasties, friends and family! Once again I write from on board a Coast Guard cutter underway. Man, I love my job.
Last time it was 16 days in the Bering Sea on board the USCG cutter Alex Haley, a 282-foot medium endurance cutter out of Kodiak. This time I’m on board the USCG cutter Munro, 378 feet long with a 42 foot beam, two diesel engines, two turbine engines, and a cruising speed, depending on how many of which are on line at the time, 12 to 27 knots. She carries 211,000 gallons of fuel and she can go 14,000 nautical miles before the tank runs dry. So, if we wanted, we could go to Athens, Greece, and have 8,000 nautical miles of fuel left over. We’re not going to Athens, but I’m just saying. I like Greek food.
All I’m allowed to say at present about our destination is that it will be in the Eastern Pacific. The Coast Guard’s primary mission is always homeland security, but we’re also tasked with drug interdiction on this patrol, and you know that at the first hint of a Mayday the Coastie SAR reflex will kick in and we’ll be saving lives, too.
We undocked from Pier 6 at the San Diego Naval Station at about 10am to dock down channel at the fuel pier to load up go juice. (CWO Tony Parker told me yesterday that one refueling can cost as much as $378,000. And I whine when I fill up my car.) The San Diego channel is very narrow (from the starboardside bridge wing you could see the red and green channel buoys looking both forward and aft just by turning your head. There’s an eek factor for you.). The amount of traffic in the channel made it look like the main runway at Chicago OHare, only with water–jet skis, sailboats, tugboats, fishing boats, skiffs, harbormaster craft, a Navy warship, a container ship, passenger ferries, tour boats, a flat-bottomed Navy crane boat. We passed the warship portside to portside, both crews mustering to salute.
Over the lookout station above the bridge, there is a blue cloth lashed to the railing. There is a pattern of stars on it. I asked XO Rothchild what the stars represented, a constellation perhaps? No, he said, it is the pattern of the Medal of Honor. The Munro is named for Signalman First Class Douglas Munro, the only Coastie ever awarded the Medal of Honor. He earned it for doing what the Coast Guard does best, search and rescue, only this SAR was offshore of Guadalcanal, drawing enemy fire from US Marines pinned down on the beach . He died in that action. He was 23.
I went up on the foredeck to take a photo, and bagged four gunners mates in the bargain, Josh, Josh, Tim and Greg the Chief. Two of them are younger than Doug Munro was.
Yesterday we took on supplies, some delivered on pallets, others carried on board in grocery bags. The captain buys frozen pizzas six at a time (any brand except Tombstone) and I watched half a dozen Coasties loading twelve-packs of soft drinks on board, and it took them several trips. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re neither fed nor watered on board, but I remember from working in the North Slope oil fields how important comfort food is to people who are away from home for long periods of time. No pinto beans on the serving line was pretty much cause for riot. This crew is going to be on patrol for three months.
I limited my shopping to Dramamine and sunblock, but now I’m kinda wishing I’d stocked up on good chocolate myself, and I’m only on board for three and a half weeks.