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Patrick Larkin: Views from the Bridge |

Patrick Larkin: Views from the Bridge

After the conclusion of my assignment in North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in 2009, the Navy assigned me to USS LASSEN, based in Yokosuka, Japan.

After WWII the U.S. military occupied Japan and, as part of re-establishing Japanese sovereignty and governance, the Japanese were not allowed to have a military force or have any aircraft carriers. The United States took on the role of Japan’s defense and the Japanese were only allowed to have what was called a self-defense force. The United States still maintains a robust WWII legacy presence in Japan that includes multiple air and sea bases. To this day the Japanese armed forces are still called the Japanese Self Defense Force although recently there has been debate in Japanese politics about amending their constitution to allow a more traditional military.

USS LASSEN, DDG 82, an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, is one of the many ships based in Japan. One of the missions of the U.S. Navy is to assure the free flow of commerce across the world’s oceans. While it may not feel like it in Lake Geneva, the United States is a sea-going nation and depends on international trade as a major part of its economy. To assure the free-flow of commerce is protected, U.S. Navy ships are based in strategic locations around the world which benefits the U.S. economy as well as the world economy.

An Arleigh Burke class destroyer is a special class of ship built with the capability to deal with asymmetric warfare. This means it has defense capabilities to simultaneously fight a battle against submarines (subsurface warfare), other ships (surface warfare), and aircraft and missiles (air warfare). It also has the capability to fire tomahawk cruise missiles that can hit targets over 1,000 miles away.

The ship is equipped with torpedoes, anti-air craft missiles, a variety of large and small caliber guns and long-range strike missiles. The ships can also embark helicopters that can perform a variety of missions from search and rescue to surface warfare. For fast maneuvering the four gas turbine engines produce 100,000 horsepower.

The ship is crewed by approximately 300 sailors who attend months to years of training to become proficient in operating and maintaining the many complex weapon and sustainment systems aboard the ship. To prepare for this assignment I attended a six month training course at the Navy’s Surface Warfare School in Newport, Rhode Island. This training was essential to have an understanding of how to fight the ship and efficiently utilize the many sophisticated sensors and weapon systems.

My particular job was the operations officer, responsible for scheduling the missions assigned to the ship, setting up training, and disseminating the information to the crew. When the ship is at sea most of the sailors are assigned a watch position for several hours each day.

This can range from being a look-out on deck to monitoring engineering equipment. My watch station was tactical action officer, responsible for the ships weapons systems, which would be activated should the ship go into combat. A watch schedule is typically five hours a day and rotates among many sailors over a 24-hour period.

When the ship was in Yokosuka I lived in an apartment in town. To be afforded the opportunity to live in Japan was a real thrill. Japan is a crowded country and to have a car is very expensive. Most people choose to walk or use the many trains.

The trains are very timely and usually arrive within a few seconds of the scheduled time. If I had time in the weekend, I liked to travel around Japan via the famous Shinkansen bullet train to visit other cities such as Kyoto or Hiroshima, whisked by the bullet train at speeds of 200 mph.

Japan is also a land of volcanoes and earthquakes as witnessed by the tragic tsunami that struck northern Japan in 2011. The famous Mount Fuji, a massive dormant volcano visible from Tokyo, is another example of the many volcanoes that are scattered throughout the Japanese landscape. During the time I lived in Japan I felt three earthquakes, the biggest being a 5.0 on the Richter scale. If you have never been in an earthquake, it can be a frightening experience. Pictures hanging on the walls shake violently and furniture starts bouncing, vibrating and moving around the room as if propelled by unseen hands.

Fortunately, these were low power earthquakes and nothing was damaged other than my pictures being crooked and my furniture being rearranged.

To better prepare citizens for an earthquake emergency, the city of Yokosuka where I lived had an earthquake preparedness and education center.

The center provides information and training on what to do in an earthquake. Part of the training is inside an earthquake simulator. This is a full-sized house that shakes to a level 6.0 R earthquake. You start by sitting at the kitchen table and the house begins to shake. Kitchen accessories start to fall over, electricity goes off, and one of the exits is blocked.

You then have to exit the shaking house, finding your way out in the dark until you are safely outside. Not long after I completed my earthquake training, northern Japan was hit by a major earthquake and accompanying tsunami in 2011. It is indeed a highly seismic land.

One advantage to being stationed in Japan is easy access to other international port visits. Ships based in Japan can sail just a day or two and be in another country. The ship I was aboard made calls at many ports all around the Southeast Asia rim including Bali, Indonesia, which is close to Komodo Island, the home of the notorious Komodo dragon. They are the world’s largest lizard growing to 10-feet long.

They are extremely dangerous in the wild, and show no fear of humans. Their venom is toxic and contains an anti-coagulant so the victim sickens and bleeds to death. Fortunately, we sailed on by Komodo Island without incident, but I couldn’t help thinking about being ship-wrecked on the island and having a Komodo dragon make a meal of me.

Join the Navy and see the world isn’t just a recruiting slogan, traveling throughout the world is part of the job.

The View from the Bridge will continue next week for part II of this segment.

Patrick Larkin is a Lake Geneva native who graduated from Badger High School in 1996. In 2000, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and occasionally writes about his experiences.

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