Big Problems in the USS Manchester Commissioning Ceremony.

USS Manchester Commissioning Ceremony.

 

Hundreds of people with tickets not seated for USS Manchester Commission Ceremony.
Hundreds of people with tickets were not seated for the USS Manchester Commissioning Ceremony.


Big Problems in the
USS Manchester Commissioning Ceremony


Hundreds left disappointed.
By George C. Jobel


I waited weeks to see the USS Manchester Commissioning Ceremony. I had never been aboard a serving US Warship, although I have toured many in museums: flattops, subs, battleships, destroyers and even the USS Constitution. Not only was this a trip to a warship, but also its commissioning ceremony... How many people have ever done that?

I filled out an online form for tickets... days ticked by and I didn't received them.. I emailed the program asking where the tickets were. Receiving no response I called and got voice mail. Then we played a little phone tag. Before I was 'it' again, tickets arrived in the mail, and I was relieved.

The then future USS Manchester, designated LCS 14, is the twelfth littoral combat ship to enter the fleet and the seventh of the Independence-variant design. The ship is the second naval vessel to honor New Hampshire's largest city. The first was a light cruiser, stricken from the Navy list April 1, 1960.

The ship is modular, reconfigurable, designed for Surface Warfare (SUW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), and Mine Countermeasures (MCM) missions in near-shore regions. When needed, before a mission departure, an interchangeable mission package is embarked on each LCS and provides the primary mission system needed in one of these warfare areas. Its open architecture design, modular weapons, sensor systems, and a variety of manned and unmanned vehicles allows it to gain, sustain, and exploit littoral maritime supremacy, a critical need in multiple threat theaters.

I asked someone to undertake the adventure with me, but offered no details. She remarked that she never accepts 'blind invitations' but that because she trusts me, she would step out on a limb this once... Of course, she guessed what we doing before the big day. Darn the press!

Like Christmas to a kid, I watched the calendar slowly tick down, and finally it was Saturday, May 26th. I was up sharply at 6:00am, 'ZERO-600 Hours' in Navy-speak. A quick check of email, 10 minutes work uploading Friday's Fisher Cats game recap, then teeth, shower, shave, donned dry cleaner-crisp pants and dress shirt, grabed a necktie, camera and USS Midway cap and I was out the door. Next stop gas, then Dunkin Donuts, collect Kelly and we're on the way.

The instructions accompanying my tickets said to allow 2 hours before the 10:00am event to be seated. We arrived at the parking lot under clear blue skies about 8:30am. Already 100's of cars were there. Buses were constantly coming and going, and 5 waited patiently for attendee's arrivals.

It took about 8 minutes standing in line before someone directed us to the 2nd bus in line. The passengers came in every demographic: a few current Navy personnel, some obvious Navy retirees, average folks of all ages, and conspicuously, several Jr. ROTC cadets - a melting pot of Navy-enthusiasts all partaking in the grand adventure.

The bus ride, from the north parking lot at the Pease Trade Center to the State Pier in Portsmouth took about 10 minutes, passing the USS Albacore along the way. Security was tight. State Police, Portsmouth Police and Navy personnel armed with M-16s & M-4s seemed everywhere. A police armored personnel carrier was present and a 2 man team occupied a high point nearby.

Once we exited the bus we walked to join a queue waiting to pass security. The line snaked outside the grounds and we were asked what color our tickets were. We replied "white" and were directed to the back of the line extending perhaps 350 feet outside the gate. Many of the folks from our bus disregarded the instruction and cut the line. Kelly & I did as instructed, two of only a handful of people to do so.

Now well outside the perimeter our line moved fairly quickly. Every few moments we advanced another 3-6 feet. Up and down the line people were chatting happily. There was a boy, perhaps 9 or 10 immediately in front of us, and I told him all the age-appropriate jokes I could recall. Every once in a while folks would walk past us, disregarding the line.

At about 9:30am six busses arrived at once. Within 2-3 minutes our line resembled Route 128 in Massachusetts on a Friday afternoon - virtually at a standstill. Although we continued to move, now it was a couple of feet every 3-4 minutes. Apparently, the passengers from the 6 busses were allowed to cut the line.

Finally back inside the gate, and moving at a snail's pace we continued to inch toward the security station, still 250+ feet away. We could see the ship, massive, imposing, and majestic against the skyline, above the heads of those in front of us.

Around 10:00am we heard a startling 'boom' then another, then another, then several more... The line was suddenly in motion, unrestrained. We moved swiftly toward the USS Manchester, and I thought I heard the distant familiar refrain of the national anthem. I listened perhaps another second to confirm my conclusion, and froze in place, my Midway cap peeled from my head and placed over my heart as I came to a rigid attention. I couldn't see a flag, but I saw police and military in stately salutes.

As the anthem's last echoes died away we join hundreds of others held outside the ceremony by a chain link fence. I asked three different people in uniform of various ranks what we should do and all of their answers were different. One suggested we join a line already forming for tours of the ship at 2:00pm (some 4 hours away.) I struggled to break through the masses of people gathered at the fence to get a few photos, and was partly successful. I was discouraged to see scores of unoccupied seats from my limited vantage point. I had no idea how many more vacant seats there might be.

Folks were gracious to let me get a few shots. I returned to Kelly and we joined the queue for the tour, perhaps 50-60 people back from the front of the line, hoping the 2:00pm remark was incorrect.

Kelly and I chatted a bit back and forth and said hello to the kindred-frustrated queue-mates next to us. I met Naomi Andrews, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter's (D) chief of staff, herself a candidate for US Congress, District 1, NH. She's young, energetic and easy to talk to. Her finance accompanied her to the event, and he was interesting to talk to as well, working for a company that helps non-profits with their fund-raising.

Unlike our first line, this line was stationary, waiting for the tours to begin, so our conversations ran quite deep. I volunteered to do a full length phone interview with Naomi for our readers in a couple of weeks. She encouraged me to attend a June 6th Democratic Party event in North Conway.

The couple in front of us was from Albany, NY. They traveled to Portsmouth the night before, spending $180 on a room. The gentleman actually worked on the boat installing the ship's networking equipment. He was a fountain of good information about the ship.

About 11:15 the ceremony seemed to end. Throngs of people made a 2nd wider line paralleling the current line waiting to tour the Manchester.

In a few moments our line began to move, slowly but perceptibly. Again we inched toward the front.

After about a half hour of additional waiting, having moved about 30', a Navy petty officer made his way down the line announcing that they had queued all the people they could accommodate and that there was no room, no more time for anyone else to tour the ship.

Like many others we dejectedly made our way to the waiting buses, and took a ride back to the parking lot. Enroute another bus passenger loudly and bitterly remarked something like "So that's all this was, a bus trip!"

Kelly and I went out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Newington. We swung back to the port entrance just in case the 2:00pm tour announcement was valid. A cop at the entrance assured us everything was all over.

Before writing the article today I wanted to pose a few questions to the Navy.

"How many white tickets were issued? How many seats were reserved for them?"

"Why did they allow people to cut the lines?"

"Why did seats go unfilled when 100's were standing outside the ceremony?"

"How is it that Naval personnel all had different answers?"

"Were they aware of the issues at Portsmouth? Have they had these problems before?"

"Do they have a plan to remedy these issues in the future? What specific steps do they propose to take?"

I tried calling the Public Affairs number listed in the original press release. A recording reported "the call cannot be completed at this time."

I went to the Public Affairs page on the Navy's web site. It instructed readers to 'use this link...' but provided none.

I went to the Navy's general users' inquiry response page to make a contact request, filled out the form, and the Captcha-like security code just kept incorrectly saying "Your code was not entered correctly" even though it was. I tried 3 times.

I just pray the Navy can fight wars better than they handle people and Public Affairs.


Posted 5/27/18

 

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