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Wednesday July 6, 2016  All is well at sea, we shave an hour off the time tonight and we will   officially be in Europe.  Since we pass through 5 time zones, the ship makes an announcement just about every other day that we need to move clocks ahead at 2 AM.   This results in a kind of incremental jet lag, and for the busy Marines and sailors aboard it is not easy to adjust.  The only positive thing is that they will make it up on the way home early next year, by adding an hour regularly as they head west. We have been in an e-mail black out for a couple of days, but things should be improving as we approach the coastt.  As a civilian on board the ship I have been free to roam and everyone is quite happy to show me around.  We were down in the engine room and up on the bridge on the same day.  I expect watch flight operations tomorrow

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I am one of about 30 civilians on board, most are technical representatives but we have a psychologist and a professor teaching history for college credit. Today I gave a presentation in the wardroom on East Africa, this is designed to give some country overviews of the regions they may visit. I am really enjoying the chance to talk to so many great sailors and Marines, most of them don't know where I fit in, and they are very relaxed talking to me.  Most of the day I am wearing my University of Washington sweat shirt and many of them come up to me to say hello.  I can eat in the Flag Mess, the Wardroom, or the Mess Decks, and the price is all the same!  You can even get "midrats" at midnight but I think that would be excessive.

Just this week I realized that I have been on this ship before, in 1993 it was anchored off the coast of Somalia and I flew out to visit the Navy Lawyer on board.  The Wasp was the command ship for the 1992 landings, they took the beach and the Embassy and we flew in directly from California. One of the pictures I used in my Somalia Briefing was taken on the flight back from the Wasp to the US Embassy in January 1993.  Although I am not the oldest person on board (one of the teachers in 70 years plus six months) I am sure that nobody aboard was on this ship that long ago.  I think the median age on board must be about 22, so that was before most of them were born.

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Friday July 8, 2016.   Women at Sea.  One thing that has changed dramatically since my last time at sea is the number of women.  On the Navy side we have 300 females and on the Marine side about 100.  Today I had a chance to chat with the Navy Command Master Chief about this and he says that women are fully integrated into the force, and with good leadership the relationships between men and women are kept at a professional level, stressing “mutual respect.”  Close

personal relationships between men and women are discouraged, and this sometimes leads to a few people being reassigned to another ship.   Another big change came to the Armed Forces after I left active duty, the new policy on acceptance of gays and lesbians.   But this appears to be working well, and I got the feeling that everyone on the ship was working together despite differences in gender and sexual orientation.

Saturday July 9, 2016   One thing I have learned on this ship is that the world has changed dramatically since the 1990’s when I was on active duty.  In Somalia in 1992 we were able to devote a huge amount of resources to help the starving and war-torn Somalis.  We deployed 30,000 troops from 22 countries in a short time, but that was just after the First Gulf War and long before 9/11.   We had the benefit of the Reagan era build-up and a relatively peaceful world.  At lunch one day I mentioned that I waited 20 years for my first deployment (Somalia in 1992).  At the table were three officers who had deployed to combat five or more times in less than ten years.

Today the Navy has far fewer ships but a much greater range of threats.  The Marines and Sailors from the Wasp ARG/MEU could be asked to provide disaster relief, conduct an assault on a hostile shore, rescue the American Ambassador, or take direct action at a terrorist base in Africa.   We had some discussions about possible responses to the “migrant crisis,” this summer thousands of migrants are trying to get to Europe in rickety boats, and they will be crossing the path of the Wasp.  You can also add a “new” threat that we did not have to contend with in the 90’s, possible harassment from Russian submarines and aircraft.   My time on ship was an education for me, and I will use it in my teaching in the coming year.

Monday July 11, 2016   Off the Beach in Morocco.  The exercise “”African Sea Lion” had been planned for some time, a joint amphibious operation with the Moroccan Navy and Marine Corps.  Morocco is an important strategic partner with the US, a stable country that has mostly weathered the storm of the “Arab Spring.” Both the US and Morocco benefit from joint military exercises, and this should contribute to security in the Maghreb, the northwestern quadrant of the African Continent.

Yesterday we transferred about 40 Moroccans by small boat to the Wasp from a Moroccan Destroyer.  They spent 3 nights on the ship and conducted some practice landings for an “amphibious raid.”  I had dinner with some Moroccan officers and they seemed to enjoy and learn from the experience. During our time a sea we were unable to disclose the information about Morocco, but here is a link to a site with some detail about the exercise, and great photographs.

I have been trying to come up with some reason for the Marines to take me ashore on the Osprey.  Provide a briefing?  Carry supplies? While we were about 20 miles off the beach in Morocco, I was standing on the hangar deck in civilian clothes watching the Marines and Moroccans load the Ospreys.  One of the sailors asked me for my embark number, and for a second I thought about making something up so I could get on the aircraft.  But I decided that it was better to just watch, and stayed on the ship.  I am not sure about the penalty for stowing away on an aircraft.

Tuesday July 12, 2016  I sent this message by e-mail from the ship to another retired Marine. “I think I have died and gone to heaven.” I can wander around the ship incognito and chat with the Marines and hear about their lives and jobs.  I have no weighty responsibilities, deadlines, written memos or stress. I am sleeping well, getting exercise and the food (unlimited!) is great.  And I get to provide some briefings that might help to provide some “context” for the important missions the Marines will be facing.  If Joan could come along life would be perfect!

Today I crawled over the Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) on the well deck and watched the maintenance and loading.  I stood up in the Flight Control to watch the Osprey's load troops, take off and land.  I watched the Marines practice marshal arts training on the hangar deck.  There is a new program (MCMAP) and all Marines have to be trained, everyone wears a belt on their utility trousers with the color of the qualification.  It seems very successful and the troops seem to thoroughly enjoy it.

Friday July 15, 2016.  Today the Marines have been provided with information about a likely military coup in Turkey.  The ship is headed in that direction and they were trying to sort out the possible scenarios and responses.  Turkey is an important NATO Ally and a key partner in helping to bring stability in the region.  Again I am reminded that these Marines and sailors could be in dangerous waters in a very short time.

The photo below shows US and Moroccan Marines loading the Ospreys during Operation African Sea Lion.

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