Wednesday, June 20, 2012

USS Iowa: Progress Report

Iowa in San Pedro
Volunteers on Iowa

Today I was privileged to spend the day on board the USS Iowa with dozens of motivated volunteers and a small dedicated staff who are literally working their tails off getting Iowa ready for the celebrations the will begin July 2, and continue as she hosts the USS Iowa Veterans Reunion and then her grand opening on July 7. The work already done in Richmond produced amazing results for a ship that was left absorbing the elements for over twenty years. Much work is still needed to get her ready, and what amounts to enough volunteers to almost fill her original complement, have stepped forward in such numbers to keep the scheduling staff working day and night, processing the applications of those willing to lend a hand.

This was my second day aboard the Iowa. Last weekend I joined up with a small group of strangers who soon became shipmates, as we went about the task of removing the walls of a petty officers lounge to make way for expanding the museum space. The task at first seemed daunting as the walls resisted our grinding tools that made little progress against what turned out the be honeycomb metal walls. We soon collectivly seized upon using a combination of metal saws and grinders to cut away the walls and open the space. Sparks flew, smoke spewed, and the ever present danger of fire, was suppressed under a careful watch. The walls soon gave way to present a new problem of how to get them topside. All the while, our little group continued to bond and in doing so, put our heads together to solve the problem of removing walls, then winching them topside through the hatch via a block and tackle. By the end of the day we were the tightest of shipmates, and left for our homes with a feeling of accomplishment, and even deeper, that sense of comraderie when you've made new friends.
Lt. Dan, Operations Boss
Today was no different, as the volunteers gathered in a crew dining space and awaited the safety meeting which is the daily benediction, before fanning out to the various assignments. Except for staff, most of the faces were new to me; except James a fellow volunteer from our Saturday crew. He and I were assigned to go with the Ship Ops Lead, Mac, to  raise the colors on the fantail, and them forward to raise the pennant on the bow. We then collected a half dozen ROTC students from San Pedro High, who had been coming aboard every day this week to lend a hand. The main task today was to move a large stack of life rafts racks to the side of the ship for removal to the dock. They were nested in rows below the barrels of number three turret and needed to be moved to the side of the ship where they would be hooked on to the forks of a lift and off loaded onto the dock. I must admit, it was challenging work, as we carefully untied the racks, stacked four high, and then by shear muscle power lifted then to the deck, and carried them to the rail, careful not to mar the wooden deck.
Our leader, was a former Iowa crew member who we will acknowledge as "Mac" who's first priority was doing it Safely, Safely, and more Safely!. The students worked along side old salts, and this old army guy, as we moved those heavy racks one by one to the side for offloading. Mac, kept everyone's head in the game with his ever present cautioning and if needed chewing out if anyone strayed from paying attention to the lurking danger associated with offloading such material. He demonstrated, then supervised the careful hooking of the straps, and calling out caution as each rack soared over the side onto the dock.  We them moved onto other assignments, each acomplished without a whimper of complaint, or any shirking to the task by old or young. The ROTC group consisted of five boys and one girl, who represented the diversity of Los Angeles and America today. Our next task was moving 60 cases of water, by forming a chain gang and passing the cases across the deck to a hatch where they were slid them down to the galley below and via chain gang moved snake like to a storage space. Again, us old guys were hard pressed to keep up with the enthusiasm of those students. During a break I learned that they were part of an Air Force ROTC program, and all planned to go into the Air Force, (too bad Navy, as they would make great sailors). All I can say is I tried to pitch them to consider switching services when they graduated.

I came away with two impressions, the first, that all of those who have volunteered, each feel a deep sense of commitment to the ship and the sea service. And second, they all share the feeling that they are part of a great enterprise, and take immense pride in working on the Iowa. Even more heartening, was my impression of the high school students who never once complained, or shirked from any assignment, and actually jumped at any task they were assigned. I am assured, that some of America's future leaders were among that group, and demonstrated the kind of grit and innovation that is a purely American trait.

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