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Even viewed end on, the USS Ronald Reagan carrier is massive

US Warships Anchor! Phuket's All Set to Rumble

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Photo Album Above: Fresh Shots Added

THE aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan anchored off Phuket today and soon after began discharging its precious cargo of sailors with money.

Estimates vary, but Phuket could be as much as US$1 million richer every day between now and September 27, when the warships set sail.

At the island's east coast deep sea port today were contrasts between Phuket's seaborne present and future. The large cruise ship Star Virgo was discharging its passengers into the waiting waves of taxi and mini-van drivers.

Nearby, the first of Phuket's new-generation hydrofoil ferries is being fitted out, ready to slice the time it takes to reach Phi Phi and other destinations from Phuket.

And beyond, massive and distinct even from a distance, was the USS Ronald Reagan. On the deck, glistening in the sunshine, could be seen some of the carrier's 84 aircraft.

To approach the carrier by water is to understand the difference between big and BIG.

Wherever the Ronald Reagan sails, it makes an impression. Included in today's media contingent were journalists from Fox TV and China Radio News.

Going on board the carrier feels just like being consumed by a giant whale. We can't say we've done that, but a trip on board the Ronald Reagan excites the imagination in every kind of way.

It is not just BIG, it's H-U-G-E.

Heading off the USS Ronald Reagan, looking relaxed and keen to touch dry land after 45 days at sea, filed mostly-young members of the crew. A couple carried golf bags. Another carried a surf board.

They are, like all sailors in uniform, clean-cut and about as far from the present popular pirate seafarer image of Jack Sparrow and his cutthroats as it's possible to get.

Perhaps nobody would understand the difference between Hollywood acting and reality better that Ronald Reagan, who played roles in B-grade movies yet went on to became US Commander-in-Chief.

This is, after all, his ship. A lifesize statue of Mr Reagan stands ready and welcoming, arms stretched wide, close to the souvenir stall. Cute teddy bears and 'Got freedom' t-shirts occupy prime space.

A photograph of President Obama is there, too, on a stand close to where the sailors wait to disembark. After all, this is his carrier now, except for the name.

Rear Admiral Scott Hebner, Commander of Carrier Strike Group Seven, speaks from a podium in a cavernous hangar below decks. He tells us he remembers Phuket from his last visit in 1991.

The seafood, the culture and the friendly people, as well as the beaches, were memorable features. He plans to become acquainted with them again.

He says the visit of the warships is ''a clear signal and a reminder of the importance and strength of the long-standing relationship between Thailand and the US.''

''Phuket is a favorite port of call for all our sailors,'' he says. ''We asked to come here. We asked to come to Phuket.

''It's been a long time since a US aircraft carrier has come and we wanted to be the one to return.''

About 2500 sailors will be ashore at any one time, the rear admiral said. They have been briefed extensively on ''proper behavior.''

''We want to engage with the people here and continue to build on good relations, and contribute something to the community while we are here.''

Guidance and rules have gone out to all and there's a three-day period when briefing about the next port become a focus: ''What we do ashore is as important as what we do when we are at sea, operating.

''Last night we were all on tv reminding all the sailors 'You can have fun. There's a right way to have fun and not overdo it'. They know the mission.''

Sailors are not allowed to operate jet-skis or even rent cars or motorcycles while on shore leave.

''It's not safe for our sailors,'' the rear admiral said. ''Penalties for violation? I would sum it up in one word: severe.''

Shore patrols work with local police to deal with any trouble.

Up on the flight deck, lifted by a giant elevator, the muscular nature of the metallic beast becomes more evident. It's a powerful weapon of war.

The area of the flight deck is 4.5 acres, 78.3 metres wide. The carrier is 332.8 metres long, with a crew of up to 3200, plus an air wing of 2480.

All US sailors put Phuket and Pattaya as numbers one and two on their list of favorite destinations in South-East Asia.

Groups of volunteers on Phuket will be devoting time on their shore leave to painting and other maintenance at several schools and orphanages on Phuket and in Phang Nga.

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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Have Fun!

Posted by LivinLOS on September 22, 2009 17:52

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Seem to remember one of the biggest complaints from the last armed forces ashore were the extortionate prices of tuk-tuks and transport around the island.

With the new intake of US soldiers being banned from hiring bikes and cars they are at the hands of those kind and honest tuk-tuk drivers!

Bottom line...they can charge what they want and unfortunately many will just pay up.

So sad.

Posted by Emubob on September 23, 2009 14:53


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