The US Navy once again in support of Seafair arranged for the amazing opportunity for a limited number of civilians to ride aboard a Navy ship or Coast Guard cutter on Puget Sound. But unlike past years where the ship riders were all chosen by random drawing, this year some slots were specially reserved for the Navy League with a guarantee to get aboard. There were 14 of us (members and guests) from Bremerton-Olympic Council who took advantage.
The ships participating in the program this year, and which on subsequent days were open to the general public for tours, were amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), guided missile destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83), and Coast Guard cutter USCGC Mellon (WHEC 717). Several additional smaller cutters plus two Canadian coastal defense vessels were also in the parade of ships. Our group was assigned to USS Essex.
USS Essex was commissioned October 17, 1992 and when fully operational carries 1200 Navy and 1800 Marine Corps personnel. Home ported in San Diego, CA the ship carries all components of an amphibious assault, whether by air, sea or land, and the Marines who fight. There was no fighting during our cruise…only exceptional friendliness from everyone on the ship. Essex is also prepared to furnish humanitarian assistance in case of disasters home and abroad. More information about the ship itself can be found on several on line locations.
What was particularly welcoming was that the XO CDR Brian J. Quin greeted us at the quarter deck and told us that the ship was ours to explore and enjoy. There were few areas roped off for obvious safety reasons, but otherwise we had pretty much unrestricted access to all areas above and below deck, from bow to stern. It was interesting to observe on operational bridge…very different from one that is dark and silent. There were several Navy and Marine helicopters deployed on deck as well. While aboard the crew provided us first with an extensive continental breakfast, and later with an equally extensive lunch. For sure no one went home hungry!
We pulled out from Pier 90 mid morning and proceeded counter clockwise leading the parade of ships north a way near West Point Light and then across Puget Sound toward Bainbridge Island. Eventually we turned again to the south and then to the east off Alki Point, then past Duwamish and finally past Seattle where we passed in review for the people on shore. For part of the time the crew was manning the rain in their whites, a sight most people have never experienced from our vantage point. A Seattle Fire Department fire boat led the parade with a continuous water display. Mts. Rainier and Baker, along with the Cascades and Olympics provided the perfect backdrop on a crystal blue sky day.
While we were passing in review we also had the pleasure of a fly over by a variety of Marine Corps helicopters and two V22 Ospreys, all aircraft normally deployed aboard Essex. They flew over in spaced apart groups of two initially and later returned in close formation, an impressive display to end the day.
CAPT Peter M. Mantz, Commnding Officer USS Essex, addressed everyone over the PA system when we had docked back at Pier 90 and thanked us for coming and for our support of the US Navy…something we need to spread the word about wide and far. But in return it would be an understatement to say that we owe CAPT Mantz and the crew of Essex our thanks for an extraordinary day. Also thanks to Navy Region Northwest for putting this all together.