Archive for April, 2011

April 29, 2011

Stepping ashore in Vanuatu

by Priya Chandra

We had the welcoming ceremony for Vanuatu today. Another early start – 0530 muster, with the ceremony not due to start until 0900 ashore. Yes, that meant sitting at the ceremony’s location for 2 and 1/2 hours which is something we do a lot of – early starts, then lots of waiting around.

The welcoming ceremony was quite different to the one in Tonga – more formal and the only dancing was from the traditional dancers and a lot more speechifying.

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It was still very welcoming however and it was nice to see so many of the local community turn up to say hi to us.

The local town (Luganville) looks to be bigger than Neiafu in Tonga (our last stop) and there’s a couple of resorts here that some people are ‘trying out’ today – look forward to hearing their reports tonight or tomorrow! I think there’s quite a bit of liberty available here, so I’ll see how I go. If not, well New Caledonia is just around the corner and that is purely a leave port.

Piece of trivia: they drive on the right hand side of the road here, (Tonga drive on the left) which I think might be a hangover from the US presence here in World War II – which was brought up often today by the way. Anyone would have thunk it was only the U.S here!!

Got an official reception onboard HMNZS Canterbury tonight – actually looking forward to that, a chance to see another ship and to put my whites on again. I love this working rig but it can get a little boring and man the boots hurt sometimes.

 

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April 27, 2011

Love my job, hate the process I work under

by Priya Chandra

I’m sure this is a common complaint of many people but today it is my complaint without a doubt. I love what I do – being able to share the stories and experiences of the people on Pacific Partnership on Facebook (are you following us yet? http://www.facebook.com/ADFPacificPartnership) and back in Australia through more traditional media sources.

However the process my content has to go through in order to be released in Australia is just ridiculous. I feel as though I’m simply releasing content into a black hole with no idea what will happen to my precious words.

I’ve been working through solutions with my boss but the situation remains interesting. All I can say is watch this space!!!

April 25, 2011

Why am I up so early?

by Priya Chandra

Early start for ANZAC Day – got up at 4:15 which has to be the earliest I’ve gotten up this entire trip. Even during the Tonga mission I wasn’t getting up before 4:30!

The service was lovely – if I do say so myself as one of the prime organisers. Even though it had a Chaplain giving a reading from the Bible as well as a prayer it felt very open to me, not directed solely to the white Christian males in the group which is the main problem with the AWM dawn service – as a dark skinned, non-Christian female serving in the military I never really feel the love at those dawn services though of course I continue to go to commemorate the day itself.

The service ended just as the sun was coming up behind the clouds – perfect timing. The only thing I regret, and there’s nothing I could do about this, was that we couldn’t see the wreaths being laid (tossed) over the side of the ship. Luckily there were a couple of US Public Affairs guys there videoing the entire service so I’m looking forward to seeing those videos once they’ve edited them.

Speaking of the U.S – they were fantastic. There must have been at least 200 people there, all formed up from quite early on, and they were all very generous with their praise after the service. Lots of photos were taken of us in our ceromonial uniforms with our US friends!

There was a flurry of activity afterwards to get photos and media release out on time. As always Helen’s photos were fantastic and they made it onto the Defence images gallery before everyone else which was our aim!

Then enforced quiet for the rest of the day practically – the internet went down around midday and then the ship went into a Damage Control exercise for 2 hours.

We (the embarked forces) weren’t allowed to travel around the ship during those two hours to avoid getting in the way of the people participating in the exercise.

Without internet I was kind of lost – well we all know how much of a digital tragic I am right?

So out came the baby sampler that I’m cross-stitching for my sister’s baby. This is what it looks like so far:

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pretty impressive right? You can see why I needed to work on it – after all the baby’s due in August and it should look something like this!

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April 24, 2011

Apparently it does rain in Tonga!

by Priya Chandra

Had an an absolutely amazing day for our last day in Tonga, snorkelling around various islands. The day was shocking weather wise though. It poured for most of the afternoon, and there was even thunder and lightning.

However we’d gone out to go snorkelling and by gosh we were going to snorkel.

It was beautiful too – clear waters and not too cold in or out of the water. There were lots of fishies and starfish and coral and stuff. Sadly it seems impossible for me to upload any of the photos to this blog – a common occurence I’ve noticed here – and so you’re stuck with just the one photo of me!

The boat was lovely and the owners (ex Poms) were very friendly and gracious hosts. Their dog was absolutely adorable too – really friendly and cuddly. The two vets onboard spent a lot of time with her!

It was a great way to finish the time here in Tonga.

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April 19, 2011

Igloos at work in Tonga

by Priya Chandra

Today was really, really, really hot – just one of those days where your breath is taken away by the heat and even standing still makes you sweat. Made me realise just how used I am to the cool climate of Canberra!

The rest of this blog was actually meant to be uploaded on Tuesday but thanks to connectivity issues, it hasn’t been possible until today (Thursday). 

Sorry for any confusion.

Helen and I did a bit of travelling around today watching the medical people in action. It was absolutely amazing seeing the conditions that these guys are working under and the sheer number of people that they’re seeing. 

We went to two main sites – the Prince Ngu Hospital and Tua, a green field site. This site was literally set up in a local’s field with a dental surgery, medical centre, pharmacy and optometrist! It was an extraordinary set-up and extremely popular with the locals. Apparently the site was chosen because it is close to 3 villages and judging by the numbers of people that we saw there today, plus the numbers that have been through in the past week the population of all 3 villages must have been through at least once.

I was talking to the American optometrist who was completely struck by the lack of eye-care available here in Tonga. He’s been issuing simple reading glasses – the kind you buy from a chemist – and regular sunnies to people over 45, and for the first time in years these individuals are able to read again. The regular sunnies are to help prevent cataracts, caused by squinting in the strong sunlight for so many years.

The best thing I saw all day though had to be the dentist set up. There were two dental surgeries – one at the hospital and one at the Tua site. Both are basically self contained igloos that come on a trailer and are unpacked at the desired location. They come with their own generator and were the only air-conditioned areas at both sites! The dentists have camp chairs or stretchers for the patients to sit in and work in really close quarters for many hours extracting teeth and doing basic surgery. Here’s an outside shot of the igloo taken by Helen:

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Finished the day by riding in a Marine Humvee which meant wearing Flack jacket and a helmet that was so large I had to hold it onto my head as we careened down the road. Oh, and I got to eat one of the much vaunted American MREs (meals, ready to eat). They do vegetarian versions and it wasn’t too bad – a veggie patty in BBQ sauce. So I was quite the American girl today.

April 18, 2011

Surrender

by Priya Chandra

Today I surrendered my principles and took drugs. I feel rotten about doing it but it is ultimately in a good cause and they look ok – little red tablets that my cabin mate assures me will do me good.

I’ve been sick for 6 days now you see – hacking cough (with all that means in terms of bringing up yucky stuff), constantly running nose, an inability for a number of days to concentrate on anything other than how sick I was feeling and for one memorable day – no voice at all.

Normally the only two drugs I take, legal or otherwise, are coffee and alcohol and no exceptions are made for being sick. My preferred remedy is to drink water, lemon and honey tea and get lots of sleep whilst being waited on hand and foot by my DM.

Given that only two of those remedies are currently available to me and that I didn’t seem to be getting any better, when my cabin mate pushed a small cache of Sudafed tablets onto me I submitted and took them.

And it hasn’t stopped there – I’ve just accepted night cold/flu tablets to help me sleep and aspirin to gargle for my throat – before you know it I’ll be a confirmed druggie – popping a pill for every little ailment!

April 12, 2011

Wet, covered in dye and loving it

by Priya Chandra

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Just a couple of photos of me ‘crossing the line‘. Even though it looks cold, really it was a beautiful day – one of the advantages of crossing the Equator I guess!

There’s heaps more photos at the Pacific Partnership Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/album.php?fbid=202403609791616&id=12218503448014…

 

April 11, 2011

Fun and games at sea

by Priya Chandra

Hello from a newly minted shellback! That is the term for someone who has crossed the Equator, undergone the appropriate induction ceremony and been presented to King Neptune’s court.

 

On Saturday night we (the non-shellbacks or pollywogs) were split into 4 groups and had to present a 15 min skit to the shellbacks, held out on the flight deck. Our group did a Wiggles impersonation (I got to be a child in the audience) which was a lot of fun. We had the band in our group and they were spectacular. I was also extremely impressed by the Dorothy the Dinosaur costume and red car that were prepared, given we only had a few hours notice of this event. 

 

We, the audience, went first to form a group in front of the shellback audience. Then one of the Aussie nurses read out a poem introducing the Wiggles who came on in their red car to the sound of a car noise from the band. Then we all sang ‘hot potato’ though it was extremely hard to hear the singing over the band and the booing from the shellback audience.

 

Most of the Americans didn’t have any idea who the Wiggles are, and they were called everything from Skittles to the Tele-tubbies! I had a lot of fun though. We didn’t get to see the other skits – that was reserved for shellbacks only, but at the end of the 4th skit a representative from each group had to go and find out who’d won the talent show. It was not us 😦

 

One thing I found very interesting during the preparations for the skit was the American’s insistence that everyone ‘dress their gender’. No cross-dressing allowed.

 

A very early bed then as the induction ceremony was promulgated to start at 5am on Sunday morning, but none of us really believed that!

 

In the end, it was actually very civilised – we were all up by 5am and dressed by the time reveille was called at 0530. Dress for the Americans was back to front and inside out overalls with white, decorated t-shirts over the top and some sort of closed footwear. We Australians wore inside out and back to front uniform pants, 2 layers of t-shirts (no wet t-shirt competitions) and closed footwear. Just to be safe I had on gym pants under my uniform trousers just in case! I’d decorated my t-shirt with social media and Aussie slogans.  

 

There’d been a lot of briefings on what was and wasn’t acceptable behaviour so I wasn’t too concerned about the induction ceremony, and it did indeed turn out to be a lot of fun. Salty thanks to the copious amounts of sea water thrown over us, but a lot of fun.

 

We started off in the ‘well-deck’ which is the lowest part of the ship, sitting in our groups. There were some extremely well-decorated t-shirts on display from the pollywogs whilst the shellbacks had also gone to a lot of trouble. The Mission Commander was beautifully dressed as an old style pirate, sword and all.

 

Whilst sitting in our groups there was a lot of singing – this continued to be a theme throughout the entire event, and Row, Row, Row your boat was the most popular choice – and spray from the fire hoses. They were set to spray rather than full pipe so it didn’t feel too bad, except for the sea-water getting into one’s eyes. By the end of the event most of us had quite sore eyes from the sea-water and even now as I type this almost two hours and 1 shower later I can still feel the sea-water on my skin.

 

Form the well-deck we elephant walked up to the ladder. This involves crouching over, putting one hand between your legs for the person behind you to catch and catching hold of the hand of the person in front of you. There was a lot of emphasis on safety and sensible behaviour so we all walked properly up ladders, no running or unsafe walking practises allowed. There was also a lot of safety supervision by medical personnel and everyone was free to put their hand up at any time if they felt overwhelmed.

 

The rest of the ceremony consisted of stations – there was a leopard crawl section to get to ‘breakfast’ which was green eggs and ham (coloured food but i’m sure in a earlier time it would have been truly rotten food). I mentioned I didn’t eat meat and got pink porridge instead! It was yummy but given we were eating without hands or utensils I didn’t get to eat as much as I’d have liked.

 

Then there was a row boat, sitting and singing in a cage, pretending to be an aeroplane, stopping a leaking pipe, rescuing a drowning dummy, doing group sit-ups holding onto a log, lots of ‘swimming’ on the deck, squats holding barbells made of flying ‘chocks’ (those were heavier than I expected) and then finally the presentation to the Royal Court.

 

All done by 7:30 and straight into a shower to wash the gunk off me! A lot of fun though, and really well done by the USS Cleveland crew and other shellbacks. They made the event interesting, fun, and challenging without crossing over into personal denigration or ‘bastardisation’.

 

This afternoon we had a ‘steel deck BBQ’ which was essentially lunch out on the flight deck, with music provided by the US Band. It was really hot though and even I ended up with a red nose!

 

Not long before our first port of call now.

April 9, 2011

Life without a seasickness patch

by Priya Chandra

I took the sea sickness patch off last night, with some trepidation I must admit but they’re only good for 48 hours so I wasn’t getting any further benefit from wearing it. Thankfully I haven’t felt sick at all so quite happy about that. Of course the sea has been extremely calm so I can’t claim to have fully tested my sea legs but so far so good.

Went out early this morning and took a somewhat jerky video just to show you how calm the sea actually is. Obviously I’m going to have to brush up on my filming skills before we land in Tonga next week! Sadly I can’t seem to upload it here, but I uploaded it to YouTube and here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arvw3aqkrAU

We met up with another US ship today – United States Navy Ship Charles Drew – who passed fuel across to us, and we sent stores over to them via helo. I didn’t manage to get any shots of the fuel transfer lines in place but did get at least one of the helicopter dropping the stores off onto the other ship’s flight deck.

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By the way for those who might be interested, the break away song for USS Cleveland is ‘Black Betty’. End trivia.

Dinner tonight was stereotypically American – mac & cheese. Seriously how could I possibly have passed that up? So I didn’t. And yes it tasted very much like it had come out of a packet so won’t be trying that again!

 

 

April 7, 2011

Hump day – Wednesday on my mind

by Priya Chandra

This being at sea stuff is really interesting. I was exhausted most of yesterday – even had to leave a meeting at one point to go and get some fresh air – yet had real trouble getting to sleep. My boss said that is pretty common, something to do with the rocking of the ship. And it was certainly rocking last night – a couple of people even reported being thrown against the safety straps attached to their bunks. I didn’t have that experience luckily but i certainly felt the ship’s movement during the night.

Even now it is moving quite a bit – there’s a chair with wheels behind me and earlier today it was rolling from one side of the work space to the other; very funny.

I’m learning something new every day: Today I found out what ‘succotash’ is – it is a mixture of cooked sweet corn and lima beans and not bad at all. At least I’m getting lots of veggies on this trip and not once have I seen zucchini or eggplant on the menu thank goodness. I’m also improving my knowledge of Public Affairs and Information engagement strategy, thanks mainly to the Mission Commander who really knows his stuff.

There was a live weapon firing activity today – but unfortunately the video I shot managed to miss the crucial firing moment! They’re doing another firing tomorrow so I might be able to get better video then. They’ve also been flying their two helicopters around a fair bit, but I keep missing the announcement of when it is safe to go outside and view them in action.

Still no internet connection so I’m keeping busy writing articles and exploring the ship a bit more. I realised today that there’s two whole decks that I haven’t seen yet! I also got a cash card – this is a card that all personnel on board use instead of cash. Basically you put money onto the card via the Ship’s Finance office and then run it down like a debit card. I bought one of the Pacific Partnership 2011 shirts (no photo yet) and no doubt will be back to get snacks from the shop every so often!

Just been re-reading my entries and realised I use exclamation points quite extensively – not sure if that is a good or a bad thing, but anyway that’s the way I roll (do the kids still say that??)

Ended the day by listening to a performance by the US Navy band in the well deck (lowest part of the ship) onboard one of the Landing Craft Units. Very cool.