Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Guest Blog Post - Bill Leighty

Day 4 began early with a wake up call at 05:45

We had breakfast and proceeded to NSA Souda Bay where we said our goodbyes to Captain Thomas McDonough, our host for the last two days. Captain McDonough, a "hollywood handsome" Bostonian with a resume that would make any fortune 500 CEO envious,  commands the 500 men and women of NSA Souda Bay, Crete, Greece. The base at Souda Bay is a US facility, but it is also a NATO Base and a Greek Air Force Base. Stop and think about the that complexity and the international relations these men and women must handle just to conduct routine daily operations. Nearly 150 of the compliment here are security personnel.

We flew almost due East in our C17 Globemaster with Europe on our right and Africa on our left.  Rota Spain was our destination. The route took us over Mt Aetna on the island of Sicily, clearly visible and smoking below. The
Mediterranean Sea below resembled an interstate highway more than a sea. The maritime traffic was dense and it was a perfect foreshadowing of the day to come.  As we approached Spain we passed over the Straits of
Gibraltar, with the Rock of Gibraltar clearly visible to our right and the vastness of Africa on our left.

While in flight, I had a chance to talk to the "Loadmaster" of the plane. Master Sargeant Darryl Brown, at my request, he briefed me on the operational characteristics of the C17. At 3/4s the size of the C5 it is far more versatile. If you need to haul a tank, a helicopter or a fire truck anywhere in the world, the men and women of the 701st Airlift Wing out of Charleston South Carolina are your "go to" people. MSgt Brown showed me a video of the team in action. Another notable facet of the mission of the Air Force is the humanitarian missions they fly. Flying mine rescue equipment to disasters for example.

We landed at Naval Air Station Rota, Spain and were met by the Commanding Officer, Captain William Mosk. We proceeded to a briefing by Captain Robert Wagner of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Dallas. Most of us were surprised to see a Coast Guard Cutter in the European theater, but Captain Wagner's briefing quickly informed us that it is not all that unusual. The briefing, which began with the strategic plan and operational strategies of the Coast Guard, was a real education for those of us who traditionally think of the Coast Guard as a rescue organization.

Aboard the 185 foot USCGC Dallas, we received demonstrations and briefing from members of the 178 person crew. These young "coasties" demonstrated the weaponry of the Dallas, the damage control procedures, self defense training used while boarding vessels, swimmer rescue overviews  and zodiac boat rides.

For me, handling the fire hose and spraying the adjacent pier was a highlight, for many others the "over the horizon zodiac boat" ride was the favorite. These boats are named for their ability to both see and operate beyond the horizon of the tendership.

The men and women of the USCGC Dallas are amazingly dedicated. Each was eager to tell their story. Each had more than one job. But it was clear from their enthusiasm that they don't consider the myriad responsibilities jobs at all, but opportunities to learn new things and take on greater responsibilities.

We ended our day with a dinner on the beach at our hotel, the Elba. The talk at dinner was about how impressive the Coast Guard day had been.

Buenas Noches, Bill

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