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Location: TUCSON, Arizona, United States

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Into the Cold

Tuesday, September 18, 2007
USS Cole – Little Minch, Outer Hebrides 158°13N, 06°48W

Something there is about a bow coursing into the sea that fills me with Robert Frost-like feelings of celebration. Even when that bow is the leading edge of some 9000 tons of steel. Yesterday the ship was still clearing the Firth of Forth, heading for the turn north toward our present position. Climbing the ladder to the bridge I encountered the young female officer in charge of sea and anchor. “It’s cold out there,” she said, then, as we passed one another through the airlock hatches, added, “I’m warning you.” I smiled in acknowledgement, but was secretly smug. I live in Wisconsin, after all, I thought to myself, and continued up into a brilliant scene.

The sun was filtered through a scattering of cloud but not reflecting, for the sea was whitecaps to the horizon. Waves of more than a meter were being driven before a wind off our starboard bow. The “relative wind”—true windspeed plus the ship’s—buffeted the starboard bridgewing around 20knots. Clouds trailed tendrils of rain here and there over the receding hills that form the coast of NW Scotland. I climbed up to the deck holding the ship’s “flashing lights”—two large signal lamps—to get to the enormous binoculars mounted on a pedestal aft. I trained them on a speck astern, which proved to be a trawler bouncing it’s way across the wakes of the four other
warships forming our current squadron. But the best sight was from the port wing. Bathed in the sharply-angled sunlight, Ailsa Craig sprouted from the sea like an enormous green-topped fungus, certainly one of the most remarkable formations I’ve ever seen.

The Cole is now part of a group containing French, British, and German ships, one of two representing the hostile “countries” into which the UK has been divided for these semi-annual exercises called “Neptune Warrior”. You can’t justify maintaining large fleets of warships if you don’t train them to fight. So the exercise is constructed around the following scenario: “Hibernia”—basically Scotland—has invaded a state to its south (the English midlands); this conquest is being contested by “Albinistan”—the southern third of Britain. Our group is the Albinistan navy involved in this conflict. The aim is to repel attacks—including aircraft—while avoiding open war. Sound familiar? It’s supposed to. The object is to test the responses of radar teams, weapons groups, and the other military functions aboard. A pair of British air traffic controllers came aboard in Faslane to coordinate the “air attacks,” being simulated by a wing of Falcon jets flown by retired Royal Air Force pilots. So, at surely impressive annual cost, NATO forces are being trained to wage a form of surface warfare certain never again to take place. For no other countries, now or in the future, are likely to possess navy and air forces on the scale the Americans and Europeans have attained. That includes Russia and China. Teaches ya’, eh?


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