On september 18th, I set a reminder in my iPhone calendar for two days after Andrew’s deployment began. Time, 7PM-8PM. Alert, ‘At Time Of Event’.
“Blogging this deployment – memory about sitting on the floor of the Tijuana Airport eating pizza Pringles at 12:24 am..blog the deployment and everything you did on the trip'”.
I suppose as I thumbed this event into my phone, I surmised that detailing the events of our last hurrah in Cancun before ‘D’ day and seamlessly beginning a new wave of consistent bloggery would be good for my mental health. I sat on the floor of the Tijuana airport with Andrew, waiting for our 1:23am flight to the Yucatan, eating the aforementioned Pizza Pringles, promising myself that I would blog it up in the near future.
Well, here we are 3 months later with my first post since August 2016 (yikes). You know what though? I’m happy that I didn’t feel the need to start writing immediately after Andrew’s departure – and whether I felt the need or not, I haven’t really been afforded the time. I am so thankful for that. The weekend after the hubs sailed away, I had some college friends come out and visit (what up Evan and Katie!) which really couldn’t have been timed better, and then it was a balance between launching a huge product, and flying all over the country for it. Pepper in some holidays and before I knew it, Christmas was right around the corner.
With work being as busy at it has been lately, I knew that if I were going to make it to a port call, it was going to have to be over Christmastime. As you can see, the Good Lord shined down on me and I was able to receive some very favorable dates in the Christmas time-frame (in code of course) from Andrew. Since the holiday season is a time of love, peace, and joy – naturally the airlines like to take this opportunity to hurt your finances as much as possible. Anytime between December 14th and January 12th the flights were almost exactly double. As I started to search through flights online, I was getting more and more certain that I would in fact be Andrew’s Christmas present and any ‘sugar plums’ dancing in Andrew’s head as he dreamt would have to wait. After convincing a friend from work, Lindsey, to come with me on the trip (her hubs is deployed on the same ship!) we started to framework out a plan to make it happen.
Long story short, we opted for a time frame that put us in the middle east a day before we expected them, and two days after – as we are both well aware, things rarely stay consistent with the good ole Navy. (Navy spouses, can I get an Amen?!) We booked flights, and planned excursions, doing our best not to get too excited that it would actually work out.
At 7:00PM Thursday December 21st, we left San Diego to drive up to Los Angeles for our 12:05 am flight. What followed was a greuling 31 hours of travel.
Step 1. Drive to ValuePark LAX
Step 2. Take Shuttle to Bradley International Terminal
Step 3. Check-in and security
Step 4. Take 15 hour flight to Shanghai
Step 5. Take 12 hour flight to Dubai
Here’s where it gets interesting. After arriving in Shanghai, we assumed (since our boarding pass LITERALLY said Shanghai to Dubai on it) that we would go through the international terminals and board our flight to Dubai. We walked over to the international terminal and were stopped by airport security who told us to “go outside”. We asked why we would do that since we were going to Dubai, and he told us that we needed to go to the domestic terminal. I am no geography major, and my cartography skills are sub par, but last I checked Dubai UAE, is not a part of the People’s Republic of China. After 2 more broken English exchanges with notably the least helpful airport personnel I’ve personally experienced, we took matters into our own hands and discovered that we would in fact be flying to Kunming, China before eventually going to Dubai. Sweeeeet.
Step 5. Take 12 hour flight to Dubai
Step 5. Take 4 hour flight to Kunming
Step 6. Take 8 hour flight to Dubai
Step 7. Die of exhaustion
Finally, we arrived in Dubai, got into our hotel and both, naturally, passed out.
December 24th, today is the DAY! Heavy fog delayed the ship coming in (thanks water vapor), so we walked around the world’s largest mall, which surprisingly, was completely decked out for Christmas. Funny enough, I was wished Merry Christmas more times in the United Arab Emirates, a Muslim country, than I have been in the past few years in the United States. It felt odd, I have to admit.
Finally, the time came to head down to the Jebel Ali shipyard. We took the metro for about an hour South, passing out of the big and glamorous city, into a much more archaic land. The skyscrapers were replaced by humble buildings, the fountains replaced by empty desert. We got off the metro and found a taxi driver who took us the rest of the way to the pier. We drove through multiple security gates, showing our military IDs and passports, not sure of who the authority figures were. Finally we reached a shipyard with large shipping containers, and no signs. We got out of the cab and approached a white door a crowd was standing around. All the people told us to go in front of them, and enter in – what was on the other side was anyone’s guess at this point.
We opened the door, walked through, and I immediately saw a man in blue Navy MWUs. Relieved, I spoke with him to learn the process to get out to the pier. I’m not a huge fan of carrying a purse, so my Canon DSLR camera was slung over my shoulder in its gargantuan glory. It quickly caught the eye of security who were apprehensive about letting me into the USO with it, but somewhere in my eyes them must have seen that it had taken us a VERY long time to get here, and they let me pass. We walked through into what the locals call “the Oasis”.
A square of shipping containers all surrounding black asphalt, covered with tents, which picnic tables and Andrea Bocelli Christmas music blaring. There was a decorated Christmas tree with two stray cats sleeping under it, and a red carpet for everyone getting off the ship to walk onto.
It actually made me a bit emotional, thinking about all the servicemen and women who would be spending Christmas in the Middle East without family and loved ones. Although the USO did an incredible job decorating, and making the best of it, it’s just not the same. We walked inside of one of the ‘offices’ and found a Filipino-American woman named Hazel inside. Sheepishly, I asked that since we were technically on a US military base, if we could hug and kiss our husbands once they got off the ship. (PDA is absolutely not allowed in the UAE, in fact couples have been jailed for it). Obviously we wanted to be respectful and mindful of the country’s laws, so when she started to giggle, we knew right then we’d get to give our Navy boys the greeting we had hoped for.
“You come all this way to Dubai to NOT kiss your husbands? Of COURSE you can hug and kiss them, go nuts! But only here.”
She continued on, “Out there? Not in public. Here, good..there (motioning with her hands) BAD!”
We were told the ship still had some time to prepare to let people off of it, but we could see the carrier had pulled in. A couple thousand feet away from me, buried beneath some metal walkway somewhere, was Andrew! I started to get butterflies in anticipation of seeing him. We waited on the benches for about an hour, and struck up a conversation with an EOD tech who had helped to clear the way for the ship to come in earlier that day. As we were sitting there, looking at the 8 or so stray cats, Hazel came up to us once again, shocked that we were not down on the pier. When we told her that the security office told us we had to stay in the Oasis, she laughed it off, exclaiming that we had made much too long of a trip to be sitting on the sidelines.
We walked over to the pier, and suddenly things got a lot more real. Carriers look big from afar. They look especially daunting when you’re about 100 feet away from them, and they are loaded up for war. You could see Helicopters, Jets, C2s, E2s, and gear all over the flight deck. The ship abuzz with life – every person with a unique and important function.
Now I’m getting pumped. This is happening. I have permission to lay a big wet one on him too! Yes!
We waited down on the pier for some time, and Lindsey saw her husband come off the ship, naturally ran over to him and embraced. Of course I was running from behind with her iPhone, thumb pressing the shutter button with great fervor. Another 20 minutes went by, and I was able to greet and hug a handful of other people I knew from flight school in Texas and Florida, other friends from different squadrons, as well as other Battlecats. Finally, I saw the face I’d been anticipating, adorned with a bushy mustache walking cautiously down the slick exiting ramp. Dodging a a truck that was backing up on the pier, I ran over to the base of the staircase and received the best hug I’ve had to date. I proceeded to kiss that mustached face, experiencing a bristly tickle I didn’t much care for.
The next 4 days were spent exploring Dubai, riding camels, dune bashing in a 1948 land rover, ascending to the top of the world’s tallest building and simply spending time together.
Our goodbye was quick, and unfortunately rushed (traffic in Dubai is no joke) and we risked a public hug and kiss in the street (thankfully no authorities were called!). It truly was bittersweet, but so much more sweet than bitter. What an awesome adventure. It was the best Christmas present I could have asked for, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have been able to meet Andrew on a port call.
Thanks for reading, this one got a bit long-winded. Oh yeah, and Happy New Year! Cheers to all 2018 will bring.
Watch our adventure here!