Oahu, Hawaii - When your eyes first open upon waking up, and you realize you just had your first night board a United States Navy Aircraft Carrier, there's a lot of excitement initially. But then as you lay there in your bunk, you start to let your mind wander, and you question if you're really dreaming. But the sudden chill of the very frigid cold air reminds you that you're actually conscious, and this is no dream. I had been worried about sleeping on board the USS Abraham Lincoln, as I've never sailed aboard a large ship, much less stayed aboard one. Being on the top bunk of three stacked upward, I was fortunate (and unfortunate) enough to be right next to one of the main air conditioning vents for the berthing area. The good fortune part of that was the constant humming sound of the air conditioning, which apparently never shuts off it seems, providing a sort of 'white noise' all night long that actually allowed me to have a very good night's sleep. The flip side however, is that I'm right under the very frigid air conditioning vent that never shuts off, meaning the berthing area is always very cold. I'm not sure if this is the same in every berthing area of the ship, but for all of us in the Security area, that meant we all had double heavy wool Navy grey blankets to keep us warm. My biological clock had woken me up a few minutes before I was to hear an interesting chorus of different alarms from the various bunks in the area, many of which were pretty quickly silenced only to break the stillness again after about 5 minutes of snooze time. I decided to go ahead and get up rather than sleep a few more extra minutes, as I wanted to see the sunrise from the Flight Deck while still in port in Oahu, Hawaii. Getting out of the bunk was very tricky for a first timer, and a 6 foot 4 inch tall one at that. I felt very bulky and clumsy trying to get a foot to bend around the edge of the bunk and onto the first step and slide under the metal curtain bar, but eventually I found my way to the ground level (thankfully not face first). While getting ready, a very impressive thing I learned that morning about the US Navy was their importance on personal hygiene. The heads (bathrooms) were always clean, soap and hand moisturizers could be found all over the ship, and there were various rules and practices in place to ensure a relatively germ free environment. For example, to take a shower, everyone wears either sandals or shower shoes to keep anything that can be contagious from transmitting to other people. Just another way the US Navy really puts forward effort to taking care of the Sailors.
The original idea was to get some breakfast, and eat for my first time in the mess hall, but due to a bit of a late start it was skipped in order to get up on the flight deck in time for the last Hawaiian sunrise I'd see for a while. Unfortunately, a large low front system was hovering over the various mountains of inner Oahu and prevented a really spectacular sunrise, but eventually little rays broke out of the clouds and the sun began to touch the land around us. The flight deck was very quiet, with only a hand full of aircraft maintenance crew working on a couple of the F/A-18 Hornets. Walking to the aft (back) of the ship, I wanted to get some shots of Pearl Harbor during sunrise, especially the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri battleship. Watching the orange light reveal these two very historic monuments of history was very moving, and the eerie stillness of the Arizona Memorial chilling. I couldn't help but look out over the various mooring ports, now memorials, for the many Battleships that were docked here on December 7th, 1941 and think about how some sailors may have been up that early morning watching the sunrise unaware that at 7:53am the peaceful quiet Sunday morning would become utter chaos as Japanese aircraft surprised attacked the American forces bringing the United States head first into World War 2. Looking at the USS Missouri, which is a bit larger than the battleships that were based here during the Pearl Harbor attack, I was able to get a sense of the sheer scope of how 'Battleship Row' might have looked with many ships about this size all lined up in rows, and how easy targets they were for Japanese aircraft. Back to reality, both the USS Arizona resting quietly under the surface of the water and the USS Missouri providing a watchful eye over the Arizona both sat waiting for their usual day's visitors. It should be noted the significance of the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri being next to each other, a very historical significance for the United States: America's entry into World War 2 began with the attack on Pearl Harbor in which the USS Arizona was sunk on December 7th in 1941, and the USS Missouri marks the end of World War 2 as it hosted the official Japanese unconditional surrender signing on September 10th, 1945. The beginning and the end for one of the world's greatest conflicts, these two ships represent the lowest point of the war and the highest for America.
As the sun continued to slowly rise, the light danced among the various F/A-18 Hornets and other aircraft sitting on the flight deck, catching canopies and causing them to glow very brightly. It was a soothing stillness on the Carrier flight deck as I walked around not only taking photos, but taking in the sheer perfect moment it was at that second, surrounded by so many incredible military sights. Unfortunately, this moment wouldn't last for very long as it was time for the morning Security muster (meeting) in the hangar deck. Heading down the many flights of ladders and through the twisting and turning bulkhead hallways, we made our way to the hangar bay, where all the security forces were 'falling in' for the morning announcements and daily agendas. I stood back and watched the muster take place, which was relatively short, and looked out the elevator platform where Sailors and Tigers were coming aboard in a busy hive of activity from their night out in Oahu. Once the muster was finished, it wasn't too long until we'd be pushed out from the dock and begin our voyage to open sea with preparations already underway for our 9am departure. I decided to head to the 'Fan Tail' section of the Lincoln, which is almost like an observation deck on the back of the ship, below the flight deck. From there, I'd be able to see all the various work required to free us from the dock and get us out of the harbor. As I arrived, Navy security forces were setting up a dual .50 caliber machine gun mount with what I'm pretty sure was live ordinance, as a precaution should anyone decide to rush the Carrier. An hour before our scheduled launch, the first Tug Boats began to appear in the distance heading their way over to the Lincoln. I'd never seen a ship of this size launched by tugs before, so the entire process was very interesting to watch. By this time, many sailors and Tigers were up on the flight deck, with the sailors in their dress whites in preparation for 'Manning the Rails', a famous tradition for the US Navy when entering or leaving port. I had decided to stay down on the Fan Tail, which was relatively crowded with other Tigers and crew members with nothing to do wanting to watch us leave. When the first Tug Boat arrived that would be assigned to the back of the ship, it came in so close I was sure it had bumped the decks below us, but in reality they were attaching several ropes to the ship in preparation to pull us out. How only three of these little tugs could pull a ship of this size still boggles my mind. Once the Tug (named the 'ASD Patsy Mink') was all set and ready to go, it became a waiting game as crews both on the dock and on the ship released the various pumps, hoses, and connections on the starboard (right) side of the Carrier much like severing umbilical cords. It took almost the entire hour till just past 9am for this process to complete and the various massive boarding ladders dismantled by cranes. At about 9:01am on the dot, the last lines were released from the dock and then pulled up onto the Lincoln. Only mere minutes later, the Tug Boats fired to life sending churning water throughout the port. We were now under the control of the Tug Boats, and officially on our way.
For a ship the sheer size of the USS Abraham Lincoln, one would think the Tug Boats would only need to pull us away from the dock, and turn us around so we could then activate our engines on the Lincoln and head out. In reality, however, there's one major concern with that method that requires the Tugs to take us nearly all the way out giving us a sort of 'running start' in which slowly the Lincoln would be able to start the screws (propellers) and gradually increase power until we leave. This reason is simple enough: the USS Arizona. This underwater memorial still contains huge compartments of oil, nearly 500,000 gallons of Bunker C fuel oil to be precise. This oil can be seen, gradually floating in little drops to the surface of the Pearl Harbor waters often called symbols of a still bleeding USS Arizona, this oil can easily be seen from the Memorial in a rainbow slick surface gently floating above the waterline surrounding the shadowy shape beneath the gentle waves. This begs the question; why not just pump all of it out? Why let the USS Arizona sit there and leak oil for 60 plus years? Well, the problem is with the stability of those bulkheads containing all that oil. Any slight changes in pressure, weight, or even vibrations could break the walls that are holding in the oil and send those 500,000 gallons into the very heavily used harbor, which would be a very big disaster. Further more, if they were to attempt to build walls around the Arizona and drain out the water, the type of porous rock on the bottom of the harbor would just bring more water back in. As such, the decision to leave the oil and deal with the slow leaks logically presents less risk to the harbor and the environment. Because of this decision, ships passing by the memorial cannot create any large wakes in the water, for fear that the movement from them could cause the Arizona to shift, or cause anything to break those fragile bulkheads. So for a ship the size of the Lincoln, any movement from those massive 21 foot screws could spell disaster, and it's better to not risk it and let the tugs pull us far enough away from the Arizona until slowly spinning those screws will get us under our own power and out of the range of doing any damage. This process was very slow, as even at full power those little Tug Boats were struggling to get the massive Aircraft Carrier out and away from the dock. Once we were free, however, it became time to spin the ship around so that it was facing towards the entrance to the harbor. A crowd had gathered on the side of the USS Missouri battleship across the bay, most likely tourists on board the ship on the right day at the right time. Some people were standing between the various trees on the shore of Ford Island watching our massive ship precariously be turned 180 degrees. A large crowd had even gravitated to one side of the Arizona Memorial to try and get photos and video as this rare opportunity to capture an Aircraft Carrier being pushed out to sea. Once we couldn't see the memorial anymore from the Fan Tail, I made my way back into the hangar deck and to a little balcony area where an onboard Navy speed boat was tethered to the side of the ship. This little section of the Lincoln was where the little boat could be launched, and another machine gun position could be manned. This balcony only offered a quick glance at the USS Missouri as she came into view on this side, and soon I decided to head out to one of the hangar deck elevator 'windows' where the memorials were now coming into view on the starboard side. This presented a wonderful side view of the USS Missouri reflecting in the amazing multi blue colored waters. I was snapping photos like crazy as we finally came to a stop from swinging around, and now were beginning to move forward towards the harbor entrance. Brown colored mud stained a bit of the beautiful blue waters from the Tug Boats engines, leaving the only reminder that an Aircraft Carrier had been sitting next to the dock.
As we pulled away from the dock and headed out towards open ocean having passed the USS Missouri, all of us who were watching the sights pass by from the elevator window now were treated to a wonderful panoramic view of Ford Island and the rest of what was battleship row. Having taken a private tour of Ford Island in early 2001, a flood of memories returned with the different spots on the island we visited. I snapped photos of these locations, remembering the stories and which buildings were original from World War 2. All along the shore of Ford Island various military personnel, families, and pretty much anyone who had a moment to spare on the island were standing by the shore and waving as the huge grey ship slowly drifted by. I kept wondering how much of what I was seeing was still like it looked in World War 2, and how much had been changed or upgraded. Nearing the end of Ford Island, the large PBY Catalina reconnaissance airplane hangar, still intact from the war, came into view along with the long hilled ramp from the tarmac to the water that the PBYs would use to get to their runway at sea. It wasn't long after this that I could feel the Abraham Lincoln slowly come to life and take over for the Tug Boats, taking us within sight of open ocean. An assortment of US Navy and Coast Guard speed boats in the harbor kept pace with us, warding off any crafts that might attempt to get too close, which in today's case were pretty non existent. From the side of the hangar deck where I was standing, the view had turned from a spectacular overview of Ford Island to a wall of bright green brush, so I decided to head back over to that little speed boat balcony and see what the view was on the port side of the ship. When I arrived, I could see the shore line of Hickam Air Force base, which was littered with people waving at us as we passed, now really starting to pick up speed. After passing the final point of Hickam, where an impressive base sign with white F-22 Raptor jets bursting from the back was proudly sitting, the channel opened up much wider and the water started to get much deeper. Still, the reefs to the port side were rather close, and I was amazed to think how much this channel must be dredged in order to have enough depth for a ship of this size, especially when the reef was near the surface of the water and not that far away. The Tug Boats had slowed down at this point, and were making donut circles in the water, no doubt a little goodbye tribute to us as we passed them. An announcement was made for all non-essential personnel to exit the flight deck, which meant that something was about to start up. As I watched the last little bit of reef disappear and the final point of Pearl Harbor come into view which would lead into the open ocean, the sound of a fighter jet filled the skies. Knowing that they wouldn't have enough time to launch a jet, I figured it was an abnormally loud airliner on its way into Honolulu Airport. I was rather surprised to see a US Air Force Boeing F-15 Strike Eagle fighter jet (painted in rare aggressor colors) coming in for a landing out of what seemed like nowhere. It was too late for me to get a photo of it, but it was a nice little surprise as we headed out now entering the open sea. The impressive distant skyline of Honolulu and the airport came into view, and to my luck a Japanese Airline 737 was taxiing for takeoff with the entire city in the distance just asking to be photographed. Once again, the sound of something VERY loud filled the air, and I knew this was another fighter jet. Expecting to see the same F-15 or perhaps another, I was once again incredibly surprised to see not one, but two Lockheed F-22A Raptors, the latest and greatest Jet fighter America currently has, scream overhead into a break over Hickam, and come in for a landing. It was ironic to see them, having just seen the F-22 Raptor display on the Hickam AFB sign and not thinking any Raptors were at the base. They were pretty far out at this point, but using my big telephoto lens I was able to at least get some decent shots of their landing in the distance. Both the F-15 and the F-22s were a nice little way for me to end my stay in Oahu, Hawaii. It wasn't long after the landing of the F-22 Raptors that a new sound filled the air, this time the loud thump of a helicopter starting up, directly above where we were standing. Soon, two Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters, advanced versions of the famous Seahawk helicopters, lifted off in a very loud roar and immediately headed away from the ship and coming into view against the scattered white puffy clouds in the otherwise blue sky to follow along with the ship as we further sailed out to sea. It was at that point that I lost cell phone reception, being far enough away from the island to be just slightly out of range. We were fully out to sea, underway towards San Diego, and soon Pearl Harbor and Oahu would get smaller and smaller. For now, however, it was lunch time!
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