Highlights of the 2011 SB Navy League Annual Meeting
On January 26, 2011 at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, over 100 SBNL members, Board officers, and distinguished civilian and military guests gathered to review the Santa Barbara council's year of accomplishments and to hear two presentations from senior Naval officers.
The meeting began with the installation of 2011 Council officers. Next, Lin Graf, 2010 SBNL President, presented our council's Year in Review.
With official Council business accomplished, two keynote speakers spoke to the audience about key navy topics: RADM William French discussed the Navy's changing mission and its latest efforts in creating a 'green' Navy through energy conservation measures.
Following RADM French's presentation, CAPT Bruce Derenski, the Commander, Submarine Group 2 (CSG2) representative for submarine construction at the shipyard in Groton, CT. gave an informative presentation about The Virginia Class Submarine, and about the latest ship in the class: PCU California (SSN 781).
-- Rick Reeves, SBNL Vice President for Education
Adopted SEABEE Unit returns from Afghanistan Deployment
March, 2010 - Port Hueneme – The members of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) FORTY returned home from an 8-month deployment to Afghanistan deployment.
Here, in her own words, Christine Nichols, daughter of SBNL Public Affairs Officer Patricia Westberg, shares her thoughts and emotions from the day on which Dan and his shipmates returned to Pt. Mugu.
My Brave Seabee
People recently have asked me how it felt to reunite with my husband after his eight-month deployment to Afghanistan, and well, it is strangely difficult to collect words to describe such a feeling.
It was a plethora of emotions melded into my anxiously beating heart as I stood on the tarmac among other women, men, children, parents, wives and husbands, counting down each second until that plane touched so graciously down on the ground. I was overwhelmed with a sense of relief that was clouded by an odd touch of anxiety and nervousness as thoughts of our rekindling danced about my mind.
I had spent months preparing for his homecoming. Since the day he left my arms I had been planning this moment. Everything had to be perfect for the man who sacrificed being away from his friends, family, and leaving the comforts of his hometown to serve his country. I spent most of the deployment looking, researching, and finally purchasing a home for him to come back to. I got the keys a month and six days before his arrival date and diligently went to work with my family and his to clean it up, paint and have it prepared for him. The morning he was set to arrive I was still putting the finishing touches on the house, my mother helping me clean so it was spotless.
I showered, fixed my hair so not a strand was out of place, and put on my make up. I put on a simple outfit, a nice coat, leggings and heels, and left the house far earlier than necessary out of pure excitement. The entire drive to Point Mugu was a blur. I only have memory of leaving my house and then abruptly arriving to the parking lot across the way from the tarmac. My anxiety set in. I wanted to fast forward time to the point where I was in his arms but each second clicked by at the slowest tempo. I could hear my heart beat in my head, my hands were sweaty and I was endlessly rubbing them onto my coat. It was a beautiful sunny day at Pt. Mugu, but the breeze was more than an annoyance. My hair was being fluttered all over the place, my eyes watering from the dust in the air, all I could think was that the first moment he saw me, he would ask where his wife was and what this scarecrow did to her. Cheering began to interrupt my muddled thoughts and my heart pounded painfully against my chest and took a swan dive into my stomach. My eyes blurred with joyful tears as I watched the plane arriving from a distance away. “He is here. He is safe.” I repeated it over and over in my mind.
The plane landed and the cheers became so great that the concrete beneath my feet shuffled from the reverberating vibrations of excited vocal chords. I felt as though I could lose my balance, as if a sudden bout of vertigo had overwhelmed me. I was dizzied by the array of American flags, waving back and forth in triumph and joy. In a single moment a pride swept over me, like a breath of fresh air was shot into the depth my lungs. The energy was cascading across each face as we each stood awaiting the sight of our loved ones. The Seabees began pouring out of the plane. Each wearing matching desert camouflage, each carrying the weight of the war they experienced on their shoulders.
I don’t know how much time had passed until I finally saw his face. It was as if the crowd had parted and placed in front of me the man I was waiting for. My heart. My love. My Brave Seabee. I ran to him, and collapsed into his arms, tears leaving my eyes and pouring down his cheeks as they met mine. I grasped him, as all my anxieties and troubles seemed to float away quietly. He held me so tightly I could barely breathe, but I would rather pass out from lack of air then ever leave his arms. Nothing mattered at that moment but him and me. The world turned around us, hundreds of people were reuniting with others, but all I saw was his face, all I heard was his breath and words, all I felt were his arms, and all I tasted were our tears as I kissed his cheek.
-- Christine Nichols, wife of CM3 Daniel Nichols, USN, NMCB 40, Port Hueneme, CA
Interim Executive Director
The Bridge is a publication of the United States Navy League, Santa Barbara Council
Editor: Rick Reeves
Public Affairs Officer: Patricia Westberg
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Presidents' Advisory Committee
Black Eagles in Action: VAW-113 Deploys
By LTJG John Pendergast, VAW-113 Public Affairs Officer
This report comes directly from one of the SBNL's Adopted Units, currently serving in the 2011 Western Pacific (WESTPAC) Deployment
April, 2011 - Since the start of 2011, the World Famous Black Eagles were busy preparing for, and embarking on, the 2011 Western Pacific Deployment. January flew by with last minute pre-deployment arrangements. Aircrew and maintenance took this time to polish their skills in preparation for the February 2nd departure. The Black Eagles wasted no time getting back to business as they returned from a much deserved holiday break. The squadron jumped right into a busy Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) schedule in order to prepare the pilots for day and night aircraft carrier landings. This time was also filled with many briefs and presentations to prepare both the squadron members and their families for a challenging seven month deployment. During this time, the Santa Barbara Navy League spent a day at the squadron and had the opportunity to observe the Sailors in action. As the days remaining in Point Mugu began to fade, a few of the squadron’s E-2C Hawkeyes began to “fight back.” One particular aircraft needed a complete engine change, normally requiring numerous days to complete. In true Black Eagle fashion, the Maintenance Department performed exceptionally, and was able to complete the job in a matter of hours. All four aircraft made it out to the ship in time for Carrier Qualifications. Bravo Zulu to the Black Eagle Admin Department as well for ensuring an extremely smooth transition from shore to sea duty.
The squadron hit the ground running with Joint Training Exercise (JTFEX) soon after pulling out of port in San Diego. The JTFEX is designed to build upon previously demonstrated Strike Group competencies, and is the culmination of the many months of preparation for deployment. VAW-113 performed wonderfully in this “final exam” and received praise and from both CAG as well as the Strike Group Admiral. Recently, a new award was created to recognize a Sailor who goes above and beyond his or her regular duties in support of the command. The Black Eagle Talon Award is given by the CO and recognizes the person who embodies the true Black Eagle spirit of “People, Pride, and Professionalism”. HM3 Harris was the first to receive this honor for his work with SHOTEX ’11. HM3 Harris spent many long hours ensuring 100% completion of the required smallpox shot well ahead of any other squadron or command. On top of that, he was instrumental in the squadron achieving the highest level of medical readiness that is rarely seen in an Air wing.
On a lighter note, the air seemed a bit cooler to the members of the Black Eagle Wardroom after a day of no flight operations. After a small wager and a bit of friendly coercion, all of the officers “buzzed” their heads and for a short time were known as the “Bald Eagles”. The story behind this was simple. The Maintenance Officer told his department that if all four E-2C aircraft were in an “Up” status at one time, then he would shave his head. It was not long before the rest of the officer corps joined in the fun. As reports of the widespread Japan earthquake and tsunami destruction began to inundate the news stations, many of the Black Eagles were unsure of how they would play a role in the relief effort. It would soon become apparent that the Hawkeye is an extremely sought after and valuable asset during a crisis of this magnitude. Initially, “Eagle” was tasked with locating survivors and wreckage using both its own sensors, as well as controlling various rotary wing assets. As time passed, the mission transformed into more of a relief coordination effort. The helicopters and assets that Black Eagles controlled moved inland to Japan and began the Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) mission, delivering much needed supplies to those in distress. It was the crews onboard the Hawkeyes that worked behind the scenes—or, more accurately, above the scenes—to support this effort. To date, their 33 flights have supported the effective delivery of 325,495 pounds (160 tons) of supplies to approximately 74 landing sites supporting over 163,000 displaced persons. Each member of the squadron was proud to be in the position to help those affected by the tragedy.
As the relief efforts are gradually turned over to the Japanese, the focus of the Black Eagles has shifted from direct Operation TOMODACHI support to re-qualifying the squadron’s pilots for night carrier operations. Although, the Black Eagles are still providing command and control, we have largely turned the relief coordination over to the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF). Due to the nature of Search and Rescue and Humanitarian Assistance operations, the majority of our flying has been executed during daylight hours—driving our aviator’s night time proficiencies down. After seven days without a night recovery, a pilot is required to complete a certain number of daytime carrier landings to be current for a night re-qualification. Multiple flights a day are required in order to accomplish this task, and can be arduous for both maintenance and aircrew. Our Hawkeyes, now battle rhythm tested, have held up well thanks to the TLC they receive from our outstanding Maintenance Department.
One of our Sailors recently received a special honor. Aviation Machinist’s Mate Third Class Markham was recognized by Captain Burke as the USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN-76) Sailor of Day. Not only was this recognition announced to the entire crew of the ship, but Petty Officer Markham also got to spend some time hanging out on the bridge relaxing in the Captain’s chair-- he even helped out with a potential man-overboard, then refused to give up his seat until Black Eagle 600 was successfully launched on an early go.
It is still uncertain how long the Black Eagles and the rest of the CVW-14/REAGAN team will remain off the coast of Japan. However, it is certain that we are ready and motivated for whatever the future has in store for us.
USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Group Engaged in Operation Tomodachi
By Patricia Westberg, SBNL Public Affairs Officer
Santa Barbara – Approximately 12,750 Navy personnel, 20 ships and 140 aircraft from the USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) carrier strike group are participating in Operation Tomodachi off the coast of Japan. As of March 20th, 7th Fleet forces have delivered over 120 tons of relief supplies to the people of Japan. The carrier strike group continues to operate at sea north of Sendai and shifts location constantly to avoid the wind line from the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant. Personnel continue to monitor radiation levels on all service members and deploy decontamination procedures when necessary. Communications with the public affairs office on board USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) reveal that all personnel are well, committed and honored to be performing humanitarian rescue efforts after the tragic earthquake and tsunami events that devastated the country of Japan earlier this year.
SBNL Teams With Ventura County EDA to Plan Fourth Annual Military Business & Community Exposition
Santa Barbara – The Santa Barbara Navy League (SBNL) partnered with the Ventura County Economic Development Association to plan the Fourth Annual Military Business & Community Exposition which was held in Camarillo at the Ventura County Office of Education Conference Center on April 21st. SBNL secured the event’s two keynote speakers: Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Jackalyne Pfannenstiel and Commander, Fleet and Industrial Supply Centers, Rear Adm. Mark Heinrich, SC, USN.
Click here to read the Ventura County Star's account of the Expo!
CAPT Bruce Derenski Presents: Virginia Class Submarine Construction and the PCU California (SSN 781)
January 26, 2011 - Santa Barbara – At the Santa Barbara Navy League Annual Meeting, CAPT Bruce Derenski, the Commander, Submarine Group 2 (CSG2) and representative for submarine construction at the shipyard in Groton, CT. gave an informative presentation about The Virginia Class Submarine, and about the latest ship in the class: The PCU California (SSN 781).
Here is a description of the speech, which discussed the the ships currently serving in the USN submarine fleet and their missions. Then the speech discussed the attributes of the latest Virginia class ship.
You can listen to the speech by visiting the New Releases section of the Navy League TV web page.
CAPT Derenski's Veteran's Day Speech
Veterans Day 2010 - On Veterans Day, 2010 at the General Dynamics Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, CT, Captain Derenski gave the following speech to an audience consisting of the shipyard workers who built the ship. CAPT Derenski was in command of a Virginia-class submarine under construction at Electric Boat when he volunteered to go to Camp Bucca, once the largest prison in Iraq, from 2007 to 2008. The SBNL reprints it for the enjoyment of our members.
Ninety two years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, after four years of gruesome conflict, the guns fell silent on the Western Front, and the Great War was at an end. London, Paris, Moscow,Berlin and New York erupted in wild celebration, with dancing in the streets, stirring speeches, and colorful parades that stretched for miles.
This past year, less than six short months ago, combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom ceased, and though the celebrations were more muted, more restrained in light of a distant limited conflict that only directly touches a small segment of America, the sense of relief is no less significant or heartfelt in today’s fighters than it was in yesterday’s. But listen to the words of Colonel Thomas Gowenlock of America’s First Division, The Big Red One, when peace in Europe erupted nine decades ago:
“All were bewildered by the sudden meaninglessness of their existence as soldiers, and through their teeming memories paraded that swiftly moving cavalcade of Cantigny, Soissons, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne and Sedan. What was to come next? They did not know – and hardly cared. Their minds were numbed by the shock of peace. The past consumed their whole consciousness. The present did not exist – and the future was inconceivable.”
The contrast could not be more stark….the free-flowing champagne party and the exhausted bewilderment both greeting the same day. Then, as now, we struggle to bridge the divide between protector and protected, but we here today know that it must be bridged. Proud Americans know their debt to the few who stand the watch in the night, but the right words escape us when we look into the weary faces streaming off the nameless countless flights returning from the distant battles. What thanks are ever enough for somebody whose sacrifice includes hearth and home, life and limb, friends and family, day after long hot day, night after endless cold night?
Allow me the honor to speak for them…the silent rows of white crosses, the black flags that quietly proclaim We Will Never Forget, the names chiseled in black granite, the quiet wards of dedicated hospitals, the wrinkled hands that raise flags in a million front yards, the dusty faces that stare watchfully into the mountain passes above Kandahar, the great gray and black ships that slip their moorings and point their bows toward danger. Let me be their voice, and tell you how to thank and honor them.
In today’s America, less than 1% of the population serve in the Military, and fewer than one in a hundred high school students are physically, mentally and morally able to join today’s Armed Forces. In the age of shrinking all-volunteer professional militaries, we are at some risk of disconnecting our fighters from those they fight for, and equally at risk of our military becoming faceless “others”.
The veterans of today collectively are who they have always been…the best in all of us. In January 2011, six Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan took oaths of office to continue their service and sacrifice by representing their constituents in the US Congress. Today’s veterans are like SGT Ronald Moore in Atlanta, a former soldier who stopped a bank robbery by chasing down a gunman on foot, wrestling him to the ground, and holding him until police arrived. Today’s veterans, 100,000 of them, entered America’s colleges and universities this past Fall on GI Bill benefits, and are poised to be the giants of tomorrow’s schools, courtrooms and industries. Today’s veterans are Naval Academy roommates Travis Landon and Brendan Looney, who gave their lives separately in Iraq and Afghanistan two years apart, but now rest together in Arlington, brothers for all time. Today’s veteran is Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, the first living Medal Of Honor winner from the Afghanistan campaign, who said ““If I’m a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero”.
These are not faces of despair, or rage or darkness. They are not faces unknown to you. They are faces and voices from every corner of this great Nation, bound together by a legacy of proud selfless service to their nation, their families, and their brothers. And the best thanks we can give them is to know their stories, stand tall with them when it’s easy and when it’s hard, and ease their burdens when we can.
It may surprise you to think that sometimes, even those who wear the nation’s cloth struggle to find the meaning in what they do. For one year, from 2007-2008, I left command of PCU NEW HAMPSHIRE , a new-construction submarine and deployed to Iraq as the commander of Forward Operating Base Camp Bucca, the third-largest base in Iraq and the world’s largest detainee camp. I had spent my life mastering the art and science of Death from Below…over there, I learned quickly about death from above, death by the side of the road, and death driving through the front gate. Within a week of my arrival, I was hunkered down in a bunker as mortar rounds landed on the Camp. Within two weeks, several brave Iraqi employees had been abducted from their homes, murdered in the night, and their bodies dumped in the desert. Within a month I had lost two up-armored HummVees to IED attacks. Sometimes, in the dust and heat and chaos and blood, it is hard to find meaning. But I found it when I saw the turret gunner of one of those patrols, thrown clear when the vehicle exploded underneath him, mount up with another patrol as soon as the Medics had cleared him. I found it when I interviewed the next fearless Iraqi for the open job, and I found it when the all-clear sounded and the troops streamed out of the bunkers, cleaned up the dust and mess and blood, and went back on the point.
I deployed as an individual, not attached to any particular unit, and I returned alone on Sep 11, 2008. Through a series of lucky breaks, I arrived at Bradley International in Hartford Connecticut a half-day earlier than planned. Unfortunately, I had beaten my Homecoming Team to the airport, and had to cool my boot heels waiting on a Duty Driver to come get me. I was exhausted from two days of travel, and drained from a year of tension, responsibility and absence, and my crisp DCU uniform was showing the miles and days it had accumulated since I put it on in Kuwait.
There was no parade, no crowds, no champagne. I collected my green duffel at baggage claim and looked for a quiet place to sit and rest and wait. As I walked through ticketing, a lady waiting in line looked at me, smiled, and softly clapped her hands. The people around her looked up, and joined in, and the applause swept through the terminal like a brush fire. I was overcome, and even now, I hear it as I stand here, among the patriots of my adopted home, my friends and my brothers and sisters. I found my meaning, and it has never left me. Such moments outweigh any amount of medals and combat pay. The brave men and women of this nation will always fight any fight, give any gift, and prevail under the most extraordinary circumstances…as long as their nation stands with them, as you are doing today.
Small things matter. Coming out today in the wind and cold or the heat matters. Saying thank you matters. And the uncounted tons of care packages, cookies cards and letters matter. And you never know when the smallest gesture of appreciation, the smallest token of thanks, happens at exactly the right moment, like the sound of clapping in an airport terminal, to add deep meaning and unshakeable resolve.
Prime Minister of England William Gladstone once said:
I would add, with all due respect, that the manner in which America honors the sacrifice of all those, past and present, who bear the direct costs of her freedoms is an equal measure of their character. And I am proud to stand with you today in salute of all 22 million American veterans, past and present, and commit to a future that is worthy of their sacrifice.