Navy Christmas '99: The USS
Bataan Ready Group
The Trip Over (Getting There is Half
November 23, 1999
I woke up well rested this morning. My body lacked a
great deal of eagerness to get out of bed though. It somehow knew this would be the
last night in my own bed for a while. Two weeks will have past before I curl up with
my comfortable pillows again. Fourteen days of strange hotel beds, and ship
"racks" lie before me.
Enough whining about sleeping arrangements! An
incredible journey is about to begin. I'm about to leave for a television
documentary project that will take me to four countries, seven time zones, three US Navy
ships, and one large sea.
Reporter Joe Flanagan and I are leaving
for the 14th Annual installment of "Navy Christmas." The
hour long documentary was the brainchild of WVEC-TV and Newport
News Shipbuilding as a way to pay our respects to Navy and Marine personnel who
have to be away from their loved ones for the holidays.
The Navy sends out groups of ships for six month
deployments all around the globe. There is always a Carrier Battle Group or
Amphibious Ready Group deployed and ready for action. These deployments
unfortunately have to carry over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Family's
have to be separated, gifts have to be given long distance, and parties have to be
delayed. It has been the goal of the show to make this separation a little easier to
Our flight leaves today. The journey will take us to
Frankfurt, Germany, and on to Tel Aviv, Israel. I've never had any major difficulty
traveling internationally with my camera. But, prospective travel into Israel has
the potential to cause problems. The sensitive political climate in that region
gives us reason to seek out a Carnet.
A Carnet is an official government document similar to a
passport for my equipment. The mountain of paper work to clear this equipment was
amazing. I'm sure I signed away my first born child somewhere in the blizzard of
white, blue, and green forms. Many thanks to Jane Davis our
Business Manager who did an express application faster than you can say "sign in
All clearances, excess baggage charges, and metal detectors
cleared, it was time to sit for a long time. The flight from Norfolk to Atlanta was
easy. A cute nine month old sitting with her family next to me kept me entertained.
Watching her amazement at the world around her was more interesting than most
"single serve" conversations I've had on airplanes. (See the movie Fight
Club for the "single serve" reference).
Airports are some of the most interesting
"subcultures" on earth. Everyone is moving. No one is really
"from" there. The floor moves for you. Stores and restaurants are
different. Where else can you get a table for 2 and need two more seats for your
We had a small layover in Atlanta. Just enough to eat
and find our next gate. The flight was delayed leaving, but we were promised we
would be on time.
Somewhere over the Atlantic
This is the tricky part. Do I try to sleep... do I
try to stay awake? Our flight lands in Germany at 8:30am local time. But it
will feel like 2:30am. I'll be ready for bed when we land, but the day will have
just started. This is what they call jet lag. My body isn't going to know what time
it is, and since I forgot my watch, my mind won't know the time either. This should
November 24, 1999
I did doze off. And when I awoke just before landing,
I had no feeling in my leg. One of the major problems of being 6 foot 6 in today's
airplane seats, you have to find strange positions to sleep in. I had found a
position in which my leg fell asleep faster than I did.
As the pins and needles went away, the plane lands in
Frankfurt, Germany. It was early in the morning in Germany, so the normally bustling
airport was quiet. It made getting through customs a breeze. Having the carnet
forced me to go through the "something to declare" line at customs, but
ironically everyone else had "nothing to declare" and I zipped right past them
Our hotel is attached to the airport, so we were able to
walk there without going outside and realizing the 32 degree temperature. It was
hard to leave the late Indian summer temperatures in Norfolk around 70 degrees to come to
freezing weather, but Israel should be warm again.
In this biz, the equipment has priority when packing.
With 5 large pieces of luggage to carry, my personal effects have to be kept at a
minimum. The laptop has to come along (how else would you be able to read my self
important ranting?) and other clothes. The first thing to be thrown out is the cold
weather gear. It takes up too much space. So I have to suck it up when we go
strolling out in freezing winter weather. Don't tell my mom I was outside without a
November 25, 1999
This is our day to adjust to the time difference. We
go for a stroll downtown, checking out all the shops and dining at Romer, a classic
looking German "family restaurant." After pigging out on
"sauerbraten" and dumplings, it was time to stroll some more.
Today was the first day of the "Christmas Market"
where locals set up small stands selling goodies in the street. With the carousel
spinning and Christmas carols playing, it's hard to not get in the spirit. It's not
as commercial over here yet; Christmas still feels traditional.
The one thing I did need to buy was a watch. I was
sick of not knowing what time it is, and I thought a watch would be a cooler souvenir than
an "I Love Germany" sweatshirt.
I was happy to find out my watch came with a 1 year
warranty, so if I have any problems, I can fly back to Frankfurt, Germany and get it
replaced! What a deal!
Well I've found the strangest "cross-cultural"
hit. Monster truck racing translated into German. It's funny when the only
words I recognize are "Big Foot" and "Mud Shark"!
November 26, 1999
My body clock is just about ready. And as would be
expected, as soon as I'm comfortable with a time change, I do another one.
Our plane leaves at 10am, from a super security wing of the
airport. I've walked through so many x-ray machines I'm starting to glow. The
3 hour flight was nothing compared to our transatlantic jaunt.
I was a little leery of flying into Tel Aviv. With
all of the political turmoil, I figured there would be major hassles getting into the
country. Just to show the potential for problems, most Arabic countries won't allow
anyone into their country with an Israeli passport stamp. Because we travel to the
Persian Gulf frequently with the Navy, I have to ask for my Israeli stamp to be put on a
After waiting in line for 15 minutes, I cleared immigration
rather easily. I thought. Until I walked through another gate and asked to
"step aside" for some questions. Another 15-30 minutes of waiting, just to
ask two questions. Who am I, and why am I here.
The Navy had escorts waiting for us in the terminal.
This was the first time I've had someone waiting for me at the airport with my name on a
placard. I briefly felt important.
A 3 hour van ride north over bumpy Israeli highways took us
to our new home in Haifa. The rest of the day would be full of settling in and
getting the lay of the land.
Take care and keep in touch.