Author: Toni K N
Date of Trip: April 2009
Last weekend I was honored to be invited aboard the US Navy ship USS Ashland (LSD48).The ship is an amphibious warfare ship designed to transport Marines and their combat equipment to designated areas throughout the world. It launches and supports assault landing craft and helicopters during amphibious operations against hostile shores. Ashland accomplishes her mission through the use of a 440 foot well deck, which is flooded to recover and launch landing craft. Ashland carries up to four Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicles.
Our trip started at 8am Saturday morning leaving Fort Lauderdale for a 5 hour drive up to Jacksonville, FL and to Mayport Naval Base. The trip went by very fast due to lot’s of animated conversation between seat mates throughout the very comfortable coach bus.
When we arrived on the base the bus driver drove the bus onto a grassy and sandy area that was close to the wooden bridge leading down to the beach . Do you know what happens to a bus full of 50 people and luggage? You got it right….stuck in the sand! It took a really huge tow truck to pull it out and get it back on solid ground.
There was an amazing demonstration on the beach by the Marines leaving the Ashland by way of LCACS. They landed on the beach along with Naval officers from Brazil, Mexico , Canada and Peru. There was a contingent of helicopters that joined in. They had been on board for an International training mission that started in the Ashlands Homeport…..Little Creek, Virginia.
The group I was with from Fort Lauderdale then boarded the LCACS and we were transported to the Ashland, a 25 minute ride which ended inside the ship. What a cool experience that was! We emarked on the ship in the well which was carrying 8 tanks.
The Captain and the Commadore greeted us and gave us a welcome that included orientation on the ship and how we would get around. Lieutenant Noriega then assigned sailors to show us to our quarters. We were housed in the quarters used by the Marines when they are being transported.
The ladies were lucky…..we had an area that housed 15 in racks that were stacked by 3. The rack (bunk) is so small with less room than a coffin. The top rack had a bit more head room so I thought I would claim a top bunk for myself. It was hysterically funny watching me try to get down. I realized that would not work for me so I opted to sleep in the bottom bunk…..where I could just roll in and roll out.
Breakfast was at 6am and the day was packed with demonstrations by the Sailors and Marines on the ship. We had tours that included time on the bridge, and in the combat room….where all the computers and screens keep track of all planes , boats and ships in the area. I opted out of the engine room tour and heard all about it from one of the guys that went. I passed on visiting the engine room due to the heat and extreme noise.
The captain arranged a barbecue on the deck or “Steel Beach” as they like to call it. The Navy Sailors made us lunch and the Marines made us dinner. A DJ set up and there was music and dancing and a good time was had by all !
It was really interesting speaking with the officers and enlisted men and women on board. What an education and hearing their stories….what brought them to serve……how they felt about being in the Navy and the Marines….and their careers. It was an honor to observe and a privilege to be part of their world for 3 days.
Coming into Port Everglades on Monday morning was thrilling. Helicopters circled above, the Port Everglades Pilots guided us in through the port and 2 tug boats came out to attach and bring us in. The Marines and Navy dressed out in their dress uniforms and stood lining the perimeter of the ship all the way into port.
Once secured a 3 star Admiral boarded the ship and then we disembarked. This was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had! My philosophy of life is to “Live With Passion” and this experience sure fit’s the bill !