Luck drives a big boat 

copyright 1998, James Waldron Design, all rights reserved 

2/22/98 LHA USS Bellawood, Kuta, Bali, Indonesia 
S 08o43.160' E 115o10.262' 

My luck came in good today. Last night I met a FAST company United StatesMarine Seargent named Kerry at the local beach bar. He was one of 3000shore leave Marines and Navy that arrived here in Kuta last night. Theyhave been circling Indonesia for two weeks, ready to evacuate Americansin the event that the local food riots escalate to more serious civil unrest. 

Kerry explained that his specialty was anti-terrorist activity. I tradedinformation on dealing with the beach salesmen hawking ciarettes, lighters,woodcarvings and rings. In return for that and a beer, he offered to giveme a tour of the ship today. We agreed to meet at his hotel at noon. 

Fully expecting to be ditched, I arrived at noon and Kerry was nowhereto be found. The visiting Navy guys told me never trust a Marine, and ifI wanted a tour they'd take me in a couple of days. Undaunted, and feelingreasonably lucky, I planned to go to the pier where the shuttle boats tothe ship landed and find someone else to show me around. 

I hooked up with my new friend Susana from Berlin and hired a cab tothe pier, embarking on an adventure. Along the way Susana and I discussedthe nature of lying. Had Kerry lied, knowing well that he wouldn't meetme, or did something else get in the way of his showing up. As a cynic,I figured it was just an empty promise like thousands I've told in thelast ten years. Who knew? 

Making it all the way to the transport boat, we reached a dead end,with no one interested in taking us shipside. Turning back to find somemore Navy guys, down the pier came Kerry. Such good timing for us, questionablefor him. Given the 3000 sailors on the island the odds were heavily againstfinding the one guy I knew just at the time we needed him to arrive. Heseemed as surprised as me-the pier is three miles from the hotel lobby-buthe still offered to take us out the the ship and see what he could do. 

Along the way I commented how bad he looked compared to the previousnight. "Well," he said, "a couple of my guys got in a little trouble lastnight, and this is the second time I've been to the ship today." SeemsSargent Kerry has 40 guys reporting to him and five or six hadn't madeit back last night. Ah, the joy of responsibility. 

I didn't think of a ship tour as too physically demanding-exciting-butnot dangerous. Well, that perception changed when we came alongside theaircraft carrier in somewhat big seas. Tossed from side to side we managedto jump from the transport boat to a barge roiling around in 4 foot waves.As the barge tilted back and forth we next had to negotiate a rolling staircaseattached to the ship. The Marines told us to wait till the bottom startedto roll away from us and to sprint up the 40 steps as the ship rose away.Who knew getting on the boat would be such a challenge. Only sheer embarassmentgot me up the steps without peeing my pants. 

This was the first time I've been on an active military craft, and thedifference was evident right away. The USS Bellawood was first commisionedin 1943 and toured the Pacific, seeing action at Iwo Jima among other noteworthybattles. It's a short aircraft carrier, no longer carrying fixed wing aircraft,but rather serving as base for helicopters and vertical take-off jets.Lots of the fixtures on the ship look dated and primitive. I suppose aboat that was built fifty-five years ago deserves to show it's age. Despitethis, it was easy to see the radar guided multi-launch anti-missle unitsaround the bridge and at each end of the runway. High-tech bolted on tolow. Kerry explained it worked fine. 

The first place we visited was the aircraft hangar, one deck down fromthe top. It was filled with ten helicopters and four or so Harrier jets.These craft were clearly working units, not pretty, but ready to go. Onthe flight deck there were an additional fifteen helicopters, includinga six-pack of attack Cobras with big swivel 50-caliber machine guns onthe front. Kerry gave us statistics about how many personnel and machinesthe boat could get to shore in a six-hour period, pretty much everythingon the ship. 

The LHA Bellawood is an amphibious assault craft, and on the third deckdown there were three big beach-landing boats filled with troop transporttrucks and Humvee jeeps ready to be fitted with grenade launchers and machineguns. I saw six or eight artilery Howitzer type cannons, fork lifts, andold Willys jeeps which fit into the transport helicopters for quick deployment.I'd figure there were about 200 vehicles most of them armed and ready tomove people. 

Total manpower on the ship is about 3500 including Navy, Marine andsome civilians. Our tour of the troop sleeping was an eye-opener. Eachrow of sixteen bunks was four high, about twenty-four inches from bed toceiling, with an equal space for gear. Neatly stacked at the end of eachrow was a rack of gun-metal M16 automatic rifles at the standby. That puta little reality into life on a warship. Crammed living conditions andweapons. No wonder Kerry's guys were a little troublesome at the beach. 

Bidding farewell to our guide we rode a shuttle boat back to the pier.There was an amazing collection of sales people offering trinkets, transport,and female accompanyment for the evening to the arriving servicemen. Perhapsthey need my luck more than me. 

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