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Fleet Week

This year Alex and I had the opportunity to go down to see the Navy ships that were in town for Fleet Week. Going to see the Navy ships is always fun. There are lots of cool things to see, but one of the best kept secrets are the small ships. Everyone lines up to see the big ships, but you can go right to the front of the line to see the Canadian ships that were there, and the Coast Guard ships. The smaller ships are fun to see because the crew is very glad to see you, and nothing is really top secret so you get to see everything and go more places. The Canadian ships are kind of a riot. They brought three "coastal defense mine sweepers." Mine sweepers. In Canada. Yeah. Well, after they built them they quickly realized that they really don't have a mine problem in Canada and the ships became training ships for the Navy. If you have spent any time in Canada you know that Canadians, in general, are not nearly as stressed out as we Americans, and they tend to be very friendly. There was no one in line at all to see the little Canadian ships so we went right to the front. Then we got sent to a different place, then another, then back to where we started. Seems as though they were not quite sure where to make the line. Not exactly buttoned down like the US Navy. This was irritating the US Navy chief who seemed to be in charge of the lines to see the ships. All so typical and kind of funny to watch. Later, the Canadian crew went on break and stopped taking tours. This annoyed the chief a lot who we heard telling another sailor, "Breaks? There are no breaks! They need to get down here and take some tours!" Chiefs are not really people to be crossed, even when it is just for a tour. Anyway, we got on the Canadian ship and the young sailor showed us all around. Their main gun was a WWII era, 40mm Bofors canon. You have seen them on old movies. They are the kind that one guy shoots while another guy drops in stacks of shells from the top. They said that the guns on the ships had been pulled out of museums to put on the ships, but that they still worked. Kind of neat. Then we went up onto the bridge. The side windows of the bridge actually rolled down. I've never seen roll down windows on a war ship. They were kind of sweet, actually. Someone had stuck a red "Easy" button from Staples ( I am sure that you have seen them on the Staples TV commercials ), onto one of the control consoles. Hanging from the back of the captain's chair was a small gong that he uses like they use to do on the Gong Show when someone does something wrong. A very different atmosphere on that bridge then on the Aegis Cruiser that we toured later. By comparison to US Navy ships, the Canadian bridge was big and open, and the aft part had even been turned into the ships workout area where there were exercise machines. There were three kids including Alex in our tour group. Alex spotted the Kevlar helmets and flack jackets and the sailors asked if the kids wanted to try them out. Duh, so the sailors fitted them out, and even handed over their shades so the kids could look extra cool. They were short one pair of shades, so the officer of the deck contributed his. We all sat in the bridge chit chatting and asking questions for the longest time. No rush at all. Finally the Canadian crew needed to eat lunch so we collected the gear from the kids and thanked everyone and went back to get in line to see some other ships.

When we toured the US Coast Guard ship that was very cool, too. We got to see all of the guns, fool around with a 50mm machine gun, and go all over. They even had dummy cartridges and happily showed the kids how to load up the machine gun and jack a round into the chamber. Very different from the Navy boats where there was no touching and everything was battened down. When we went onto the aft deck they had all kinds of fire fighting gear out and shot water over the side from one of the hoses so we could see how it worked. Neat.

One of the Navy ships was a landing craft transporter. It carries Marines and all of their toys to an off-shore location so the Marines can get into hovercrafts and amphibious vehicles and storm the beach. Our Navy guide for that ship was a bit uptight and terse, but when we got down to the well deck where the Marines load up and launch the hovercrafts it was all different. The Marines seemed eager to show off their toys and let everyone climb on and around the trucks and fighting vehicles. We walked up to one table where they had every kind of weapon from machine guns, grenade launchers, M16's, and pistols to a .50 caliber sniper rifle. There were no tourists over there, and the Marines at the table were looking very earnest, but I didn't know if it was look, but don't touch, or what. I asked one Marine if that was a .50 caliber sniper rifle because I had only ever seen one on TV. They are gigantic. He said it was and I commented that sure would not want to have to pack that around all day. He said, "Go ahead and pick it up, it's heavy!" Ah, I see. A whole different attitude then our Navy guide. Well, pretty soon Alex and I were over there asking questions about this and that and the nice Marine was happily showing us everything. Alex asked about the pistol and the Marine said, "Here, you can hold it!" and hands my son a 9mm pistol. Clearly this guy has no kids. My gun safety instincts almost make me hyperventilate because I have never let Alex handle any of my guns. I kind of took over and started telling Alex to keep it pointed in a safe direction and to keep his finger off of the trigger. When he asked how we knew that there were no bullets in it (a very good question, I thought), I locked open the slide and showed him. The Marines are very casual about the weapons, I guess. I suppose that they train with them so much that they are just tools to them. Anyway, it was neat to get to see all of the toys.


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