"Give Me Liberty or Give Me..."
...a new meme, courtesy of Skippy-San. As I'm busy trying to get SubBasket excited about the concept of an "Instalanche" (she's concerned that I'll spend all morning blogging and won't get my vacation lawn-work done) I find that I've been tasked to do a meme about port visits that Yankee Sailor originated. This one's about liberty ports, and I've actually been dreading something like this. You see, although I've been coming off as a big, tough, world-travelling fast attack Sailor (which is mostly true) my two Engineer tours were mostly in the shipyard, so I got a total of two(!) port visits between those two boats. Also, all (OK, both) of my regular deployments took pretty much the same route, so my numbers here will be a little light.
Number of ports I've visited: 21. Here, I'm defining a "visit" as a place where we actually tied up (or anchored out) and went ashore; lurking off-shore and looking at it through a periscope doesn't count...
Most recent port I've visited: Warsaw, Poland. I'm gonna take Yankee Sailor's caveat here and include a TDY I did at a non-Navy command; otherwise, the answer is Pearl Harbor, which is kind of boring. Went there three times when I was TAD to CENTCOM, trying to figure out how to work the money arrangements for the Polish-led division in Iraq. Seeing and talking with people who were really sticking their necks out for the U.S. while trying to grow out of 65 years of Nazi and Communist domination was inspiring to the extreme. (Plus, the young women of Warsaw were quite a treat for the eyes...)
Port I Never Want to See Again: Mina Sulman, Bahrain. First time I went there was back in '92 for a three week mid-deployment upkeep on the good ship Topeka; this was the first port visit of a submarine in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf. The people were unfriendly, the cab drivers openly charged 10-50x more for Americans, it was hot, the club on base played "Achy-Breaky Heart" every third song... in short, I couldn't wait to get back to sea. One night we were driving to the base XOs house for a party out in town; our Navigator got us lost, and we ended up driving through a part of Manama where the local mosque had a sign out front that said, in English, "We live for Saddam, we will die for Saddam". I ended up going back for 4 days on USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) when I was the Submarine Liaison Officer for the BG staff on their 2000 deployment. I volunteered to stand duty a lot. There worst thing is that there's this "Tree of Life" where local tradition holds that if you don't go visit it when you're in Bahrain, you will be doomed to return until you've seen it. I never saw it...
Three Ports that were the Most Memorable:
1) Hobart, Tasmania: I talked to quite a few sub Sailors in my time, and every time I ran into someone who'd been to Hobart, they agreed that it was the best liberty port in the world. The people are friendly, the beer's great, and you got to see Tasmanian Devils in the roadside petting zoos.
2) Chinhae, South Korea: Not really a good port, but it was memorable for me in that it was the first time I'd gotten off base in a foreign (non-U.S/Canadian) port. It was my 29th birthday; we started out at the only English-speaking bar in town (the "Green House" -- don't Google it, some really disgusting sites show up). Drank so-ju there (our STSCS tried to stick his tongue down my throat), then got in a cab for some reason and went to a hotel bar about 10 miles to the northwest. Ate these dried minnows I found in my pocket. Did a John Travolta-type dance in the middle of a circle of 300 grinning and clapping Koreans. Got in at the end of a six Sailor bunny hop, and then felt another set of hands on my shoulders; turned my head, and saw a grinning Korean guy had joined us. Had a really bad headache the next morning.
3) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Really, really tall buildings. Had dinner in a rotating restaurant about 1,000 feet in the air. Saw an economy that seemed to be based entirely on selling pirated software and entertainment products.