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Walking tall aboard ship

November 10, 2010

I am drawn to the sea. From the moment I read Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," I was hooked. I devoured everything nautical from Melville's "Moby Dick" to "Jason and the Argonauts" of Greek mythology.

As a boy, I longed for the endless immensity of the ocean and I pledged that one day I would run away, join the Navy and see the world.

I made a run at Annapolis in '64, but Congressman Santangelo chose another kid instead of me. He quit after his plebe year. I never would have quit!

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In the Fleet Marines I steamed around the South China Sea on an amphibious assault ship. Every moment not used in planning the next mission was spent gazing at the Southern Cross from the forecastle, trying to uncover the mystery of the wine-dark sea. We have just to look at the sea — and think. My inclinations were accurate. The sea is the closest we come to being in another world. And the U.S. Navy is master and commander of the seven seas, projecting power, diplomacy and trepidation.

A few weeks ago Gary Mekikian, a dad from Girl Scout Troop 889, invited the scouts to Coronado for an adventure on the high seas. The girls would sail Coronado Bay and participate as ship's crew. The scouts would later camp along the ocean at Silver Strand State Beach.

The sea induces a transformation of the soul; one's senses become a tingling palette of experience, emotion and wonder. Would the girls realize that such experiences are life-changing? Awareness is not immediate, but our experience is our personal literature. Joseph Conrad says, "There is nothing more enticing and enslaving than life at sea."

The weekend culminated in an excursion aboard a commissioned naval fighting ship, the U.S.S. Mobile Bay, a guided-missile cruiser. My contact, Petty Officer Hernandez, arranged a tour for Troop 889.

I asked Mr. Hernandez to provide female sailors as escorts for the scouts. As we boarded, Petty Officer 1st Class Sanchez and Petty Officers 2nd Class Sewell and Williams were among several who gave us a hearty, "Welcome Aboard." The sailors treated the scouts as through they were dignitaries. These young women were impressive. Their appearance, bearing, confidence and expertise were examples of America's finest. The scouts learned that women have a critical role in defending the country and that the motto of Troop 889, "Girls can do anything," is alive and well on the U.S.S. Mobile Bay.

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