A group of 18 Bremerton-Olynmpic Council Navy League members and guests enjoyed a special multi-day series of tours in San Diego, CA January 10-12, 2i018. On the 10th some took advantage of a Harbor Cruise and/or visited the museum ship USS Midway.
San Diego is home to a number of US Navy (and Marine Corps) bases with many tenant commands. Included are air, surface, submarine and special warfare components. Although we did not visit the submarine base, all of the other components were included in the tour (actually 4 tours).
On January 11 Naval Air Station North Island was the first tour. It is part of Naval Base Coronado and initially we received an overview othe magnitude of that command. Specifically discussed were their excellent environmental work, affordable housing problems in the area affecting their personnel and efforts to cooperate with the community during necessary night training exercises. Following the introduction we assembled at Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 85. The unit is tasked with supporting special operations forces (e.g. Navy SEALS), and is appropriately equipped with weapons, sensors, and communications to facilitate troop deployment and extraction. Crews are pilots, gunners and medics with advanced life support capability. The helicopter presently in used, HH60-H, is a type that has been in service since the early 1990’s and will soon be replaced with MH-60 helicopters. We were able to closely examine an HH60-H as well as observe sailors doing maintenance on another.
From there we drove down the “Silver Strand” on Coronado to the Naval Special Warfare Center…the home of initial training for Navy SEALs. The entire training/qualification process includes not only “boot camp” but also water training, warfare training, SEAL qualification training, special boat team training and then graduation. Of note is that the Navy is trying to do the best job possible in screening candidates so as to insure that the very best are included, but also to retain in training some who might otherwise drop out but are seen as great potential by their instructors. There is now a 3 week orientation period which preceeds the start of training so as to better insure that candidates know what is coming and what is to be expected. Now being stressed is character above performance in the selection and training process. The average final graduation rate is about 28%. Following a video presentation we went out by the white footprints where recruits assemble and then explored the SEAL’s obstacle course before departing. So concluded January 11.
On the following day, January 12, for a tour of Naval Base San Diego, we all met at Anchors, a catering facility which is on the base but not within the gated area. From there the Navy boarded us into two vans which then took us for a driving tour of the base. NBSD is the largest base on the west coast and the 2nd largest in the world with a combination of 50,000 military personnel and civilian employees coming and going every day. The base has two major components, a “dry side” and a “wet side” which are divided by public highways and a railroad track. The dry side is home to the many schools, the pool and various morale facilities. On the wet side are the piers and maintenance facilities as well as significant high rise housing for sailors. At present on the base there are 24,000 parking spaces for the 50,000 base personnel. For sailors not housed on base it can be a long commute from what affordable housing can be found at quite some distance from the base. Solar power is being successfully implemented and utilized including a fleet of solar powered vehicles. Unfortunately no ships were available for a tour but as we drove along the waterfront we got a good close up look at every ship in port. To say it was impressive would be an understatement.
Lunch for our group was at Anchors and then we headed north to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, a former NAS that was converted to an MCAS in the late 1990’s. When still an NAS this was where the Navy “Top Gun” program operated. We were welcomed at Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 whose mission is medium light assault support with the V-22 aircraft. Unique about the V-22 is that it takes off and lands like a helicopter but when airborne the engines rotate 90 degrees and it then flies like a conventional airplane. The V-22 can reach an altitude of 25,000 feet and has a range of 450 miles in a 3-4 hour period. Passengers and/or cargo can be carried internally and externally. VMM 163 has a legacy that goes back to Viet Nam and is the only unit still authorized to decorate their aircraft…in this case with “evil eyes” painted on the nose.
It is more than safe to say that it was a great one. Our thanks to all of the US Navy and Marine Corps personnel who took the time to tell us about what they do and to show us their facilities. And thanks, as always, to Byron Faber for putting this all together. It is a lot of work. Some of those on the tour were already wondering when the next San Diego tour will be. Byron?