The trip of a lifetime – brining the U.S.S. New York to Mayport

The trip of a lifetime – brining the U.S.S. New York to Mayport

Rarely does an opportunity and the privilege for a three-day voyage on a large Navy ship come to an ordinary citizen. When this one did, however, I and my fellow Navy League member, Clelia Davis, jumped on it.

Clelia Davis, of Ortega, and Leighton Tesche, Venetia resident, on board the USS New York, leaving Norfolk en route to Jacksonville

Clelia Davis, of Ortega, and Leighton Tesche, Venetia resident, on board the USS New York, leaving Norfolk en route to Jacksonville

And we had to – we were only given a day to respond! And this wasn’t just any Navy vessel. This was the USS New York (LPD-21), making its way from its old homeport in Norfolk, VA, to its new home in at Mayport Naval Station, Jacksonville.

Make no mistake, this is a special ship. The entire hull of this wonderful ship is made out of steel from the Towers of 9/11. The ship is resplendent in memorabilia from the families of the victims of this assault on our country. Not surprisingly, the ship’s motto is “Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget.”

On Dec. 3, we flew to Norfolk to board at 6 a.m. on Dec. 4 to join only eight other Navy League guests from Jacksonville and Tampa. We were honored to spend three days and two nights aboard with a crew of 360 Navy personnel and 50 Marines. As most of you have read in the newspapers and seen on TV, a LPD-21 means “amphibious transport dock” which basically means this ship can carry and deliver 700-plus Marines anywhere in the world where they are needed. Not only Marines, but many large tanks as well.

It is not a carrier but large helicopters such as the MV-228 Osprey Tiltrotor aircraft are able to land on the ship. We watched while we saw many landings and take-offs most of Thursday. This was awesome! On Friday we watched two of them land and deliver many of our elected officials, among them Congressman Ander Crenshaw, Mayor Alvin Brown, the three Beaches mayors, several Admirals and many others, to ride into Mayport for the celebration that awaited us at the dock.

I have watched from the other vantage point many times, but to actually be on the ship coming in to dock was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and my fellow guests aboard. The tugboats were out with their water hoses spraying to welcome us through the jetties that guide the ships to port. (Fun fact: these jetties were the idea of and engineered by my great-grandfather Dr. Able S. Baldwin, for whom the town of Baldwin was named.) The sun was shining, the weather was gorgeous, and from talking with many of the wonderful sailors and Marines moving to Jacksonville to make it their home for the next several years, much excitement and happiness! Believe me, the city of Jacksonville is truly blessed to be receiving this many wonderful men and women who are defending our country for us.

View from the flight deck of an Osprey landing

View from the flight deck of an Osprey landing

What I get asked most about my journey is (1) how were the sleeping quarters, (2) how did you manage the different levels of the ship and (3) what was it like to be aboard. Well, it was an honor to be aboard. We were treated like the most honored guests which meant that we received tours by the Master Chief himself, CMDCM Shawn Isbell; we met and saw regularly, Captain Jon Kreitz, the Commanding Officer, and we were greeted warmly when we arrived by the XO (executive officer) of the ship, Captain Chris Brunett, with coffee in the Officer’s dining room, where we took most of our meals. In other words, we were treated like royalty! There was even an ice cream and cake social on Thursday night and the whole ship sang to my friend and bunkmate, Clelia, who just happened to have a birthday that day. Believe me, that was a birthday she will never forget.

Our sleeping quarters were a larger-than-expected berth with six bunk beds and our own bathroom. Just four of us had the room so it was surprisingly not too crowded. I can’t say that I could sleep more than two nights like this, but what an experience. If you wanted to turn over while you were sleeping, you had to make a plan. Bumping one’s head was normal.
The different levels of the ship required slacks and flat shoes. One must have three contacts on the handrails and steps to avoid a fall. And, according to the staff, even the most experienced of sailors, have injured themselves. But after a few days, I was maneuvering like a pro. I had even avoided sea-sickness – but only with a patch! However, I can’t say that knowing where I was on the ship was easy. Just when I was about to figure it all out (all the corridors, stairs, locked chambered doors, etc.) it was time to leave. We got lost a lot!
One of the most touching parts of the journey was a burial at sea for 20 of our servicemen and women. This was held on the aviation platform where they held a 21-gun salute. To qualify for this, some had waited up to two years and qualifications were the same as to be buried at Arlington.

Clelia and I were thrilled to be on the flight deck when the distinguished guests arrived on Friday morning to sail in with us to Mayport. I found out later that this is the most dangerous place on the ship to be because it is so close to the actual aircraft. The flight deck officer with us told us that only once did he have to duck to the floor when a helicopter’s blades came too close to the windows. Having not had that knowledge at that time we were, naively, most comfortable.

Not quite the Ritz-Carlton, but the berth still had a television and a phone

Not quite the Ritz-Carlton, but the berth still had a television and a phone

Friday, our arrival day, was weather perfect! Standing on the top deck of the ship, we arrived to the tugboat welcome, the Navy band playing, tents set up and many welcoming families and dignitaries cheering us into port. Clelia and I even had assigned seats under the tent next to the officers of the ship. What an honor! This was a trip of a lifetime.

By Leighton Holmes Tesche

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