Sunday, September 7, 2008

On The Road Again

With the number of Hurricane’s and Tropical Storms that have developed in the past week, we have been uncertain as to whether or not we would be called upon to carry out a real time Disaster Relief mission. As many of you may have already read on the internet, we have in fact received our tasking to do so in Haiti which makes today our final day in Colombia. A wonderful and exciting day it was and a great way to wrap up our assignment here in Santa Marta.
The day began with a very early helo ride to the airport outside of the Coast Guard Base, where I was scheduled to meet the Colombian Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Barrera. Making his acquaintance today was quite an honor and it gave me such a great opportunity to meet this genuinely extraordinary man. I had read his biography prior to our meeting and while it spells out all of his fantastic achievements, meeting him in person and hearing about all he has done and continues to do is a whole other experience.

Upon meeting him at the airport he walked over to us with his Aide and greeted us with a strong handshake and a pleasant smile. He was ready and excited to head out to our mighty warship. Once we arrived and took a seat in CAPT Town’s Cabin for a cup of coffee, we learned that he had always wanted to visit and tour a ship of this class, and we are thrilled to be the ones to have afforded him this opportunity. We spoke of this mission and what our goals have been and what has been completed to date, he acknowledged and was pleased with all that was being said. He was grateful and made it clear through words spoken in perfect English.
After a brief coffee stop, we began our tour of Kearsarge. First stop was the Well deck which was really the highlight of the entire tour as nearly 100 of his own soldiers were standing in ranks awaiting his arrival. These men and women of the Colombian Armed Forces were onboard as part of a program that we have adopted during this visit, the Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE). SMEE is an exchange of skills and expertise between the U.S. Military and Host Nation Militaries in such fields as First Aid, Navigation, Small Boat Operations, Damage Control and Leadership. Courses were taught both at the Coast Guard Base ashore in Santa Marta and some were taught onboard Kearsarge and today, the Admiral happened to arrive while the Leadership portion was being carried out onboard.
As we walked down the ramp to the Well Deck, you could see the pride just pouring out of the men and women that serve in the Colombian Armed Forces as their Chief of Naval Operations made his way in their direction. As he walked through the ranks he shook the hands of many of the troops and offered words of encouragement and guidance. Once he put them at ease they swarmed around him with so much excitement and enthusiasm and most noticeably, admiration. It was amazing and comparable to what our reaction would be if we received a surprise visit from the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations or even the President. Pictures were being taken left and right and just an incredible visit for those participating in the SMEE- to be on a U.S. Warship, learning and being taught by a highly respected military, and meeting their CNO!
After a few minutes we moved forward with the tour, showing the Admiral the upper and lower sections of Vehicle Stowage, the Mess decks, Dental, Medical, and then back to the CO’s cabin. We closed with another cup of camaraderie (coffee) and a gift exchange which despite being a tradition for any visit, is always a gesture not only of respect but also of friendship and partnership. The Admiral presented myself and the CO with a beautiful plaque of wood and bronze and a very unique set of cufflinks with the Colombian Flag on them that I will always treasure as a fond memory of this visit.
While it is unfortunate that we must depart Santa Marta a few days early, it is a must and we will push forward to help others that are in need of our assistance. It has been a great pleasure and such an honor to have been here. The people we met made us feel so welcome and embraced so warmly. We wish them all the best and a very bright and prosperous future. In conclusion, we executed the mission and again left with new found friendships and memories to last a life time. We have a lot in common with the citizens of Colombia and we now have one more thing in common…camaraderie.


Anonymous said...

Hello Sir-

My husband was one of the men you gave a coin to yesterday. He was so proud to call and tell me that. Thank you for making his day!

Yesenia Lopez said...

Hello Captain Ponds.

Let me tell you. I am so happy that you have written many blogs to help the people at home understand what you guys are doing. I think this is the best approach to keep us navy wives informed and happy. You cannot imagine how much I appreciate you. My husband talks wonderfully about you and is greatful as well. GOD bless you and your family. GOD BLESS the USS Kearsarge. Thank you for keeping us updated, this really helps me cope with this deployment. I am very proud of all of you...

THank you once again...


1arcticfox1 said...

Thank you so much for keeping the families updated. We appreciate it so very much! My son LCDR Hugh Denny just arrived in Haiti on 9/22/08 and is assigned to the USS Kearsarge as a Civil Engineer with the USPHS, team 2. The compassionate and hard work you are all doing - laboring under less than ideal conditions - is heart-warming to see. I am so proud of my son and all the young men and women of operation "Continuing Promise" 2008. Keep up the great work and God bless you all!