The day was a scorcher. Heat was steaming from the pavement of Manila as I alighted from a Pier15-bound jeepney en route to the USS Blue Ridge. The USS Blue Ridge! I reminded myself. I haven’t been to any military ship ever in my whole life, and here I was, about to board not any ordinary ship, but one of the U.S. Navy’s command ship.
Together with a bunch of journalists, a briefing was held before we were herded towards the pier where the USS Blue Ridge was docked.
The huge gray hull of the ship loomed into view and shadowed us as we went in for closer view.
The USS Blue Ridge has docked in Manila’s port for the third time and would be staying here for a few days before sailing back to its homeport in Yokosuka, Japan. It is no warship, as what my mind was painting when I was reading the Manila U.S. Embassy’s invite for a visit, but rather, a command ship.
It heads the United States Seventh Fleet and has seen its fair share of action, participating as the command ship of the Easter Counter-Offensive during the Vietnam War.
Being 44 years in service, it is the second oldest active ship in the United States.
After shutter clicks slackened, we proceeded to the ramp connecting the ship and we started to explore the USS Blue Ridge.
Uniformed Navy guys greeted us as we went onboard through its narrow portals and constricted hallways. It was surprising to find that the floors of the ship were finished with shiny wood; a stark contrast to its cold steel walls littered with signs, dials and shipping what-nots
We checked out cabins and compartments of the ship, but the most interesting one was restricted to any kind of recording device; the Combat Information Center.
Dropping our cameras and smart phones on the hallway, we proceeded inside and saw all kinds of radars and well, radars were all I know. I don’t really know what those other gadgets are called and what they do, but it looks like those command centers we all see in Hollywood movies.
Eventually, sunlight touched our skin again as we emerged on the main deck of the USS Blue Ridge. There were no fighter jets on board, this isn’t an aircraft carrier after all, but there were two choppers docked on one end of the ship.
A band was practicing a rock song at the other end and a crew was busy preparing lights; I think these guys are gonna have a party later that night.
We met a few of the Navy guys stationed at the ship and were surprised to find them speaking in straight Tagalog. It seems even the U.S. Navy is not exempted from the global reach of the Filipinos with at least 200 of the 1,441 sailors on board being Pinoy.
One particular guy we spoke with, Petty Officer First Class Michael Ream, even sports an alibata tattoo on one arm and an icon of the Philippine flag on the other. Very very cool.
But it gets even cooler as we finally got to enter the bridge of the USS Blue Ridge. And we were even allowed to take photos! All sorts of dials, apparatuses, instruments and thingamajigs line the whole length of the cabin, very Star Trek. Well, in a very very very old-school kind of way.
Finally, a press brief was held at the main deck of the ship. After a few introductions, USS Blue Ridge Vice Admiral Robert Thomas took the microphone. The guys from print and TV went crazy and fielded in their very serious questions. I wanted to ask about guns and cannons and things that go explode in the air but I managed to restrain myself, haha.
On our way back down toward the pier, I spotted officer Ream once again, but this time without his uniform on. Now in jeans and shirt with a big backpack on, he looked more Filipino going for a homecoming. Working on the Blue Ridge is indeed a sweet job but there’s nothing like stepping back on your homeland.
The USS Blue Ridge docked at the Manila South Harbor last Friday for a goodwill visit to strengthen the U.S. ties with our country.