The giant ship settled down in front of Hanko, but all the soldiers do not yet know if they will be needed in the war exercise that is about to begin.
In the evening Helicopters and airplanes are arranged on the deck of the warship to be ready the next morning. It looks like a well-honed dance, where everyone has their own part and often their own color code on their shirt.
“Isn’t it funny that here young people who have just graduated from high school can park machines worth millions of euros in the middle of the sea, but they still cannot legally buy alcohol in the United States”, ponders one officer who hosted the Finnish journalists who visited Kearsarge on Monday and Tuesday. He did not want to be quoted by name.
When the sun sets south of Hanko, the calm Baltic Sea sparkles and the deck is full of gray warplanes, it’s impossible to avoid Top Gun comparisons. The only thing missing is the theme song. Instead, an order is heard over the ship’s loud speakers that no more people are allowed on deck after sunset.
The amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge is preparing to be part of a couple of weeks of military exercises that will take place on land, at sea and in the air starting Tuesday.
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One one of the ship’s most special devices is a large hovercraft, of which there are no less than three on the ship’s deck. They are still loaded with various Marine armored vehicles.
Officer Howard Young is excited, although he does not yet know if his skills and hovercrafts will be needed in the exercise. Broken, rocky beaches can break them, and there are plenty of such in the Hanko region.
“It is like nothing else. It doesn’t run like a normal boat, it’s hard to explain. But it’s still fun, fast and big,” Young says, showing off his own fit on the ship.
Fast means fifty knots. Young sounds like many other ship professionals. They are proud of their work, happy to talk about their tools and smile. You can’t hear a scream on board, you can hear even more laughter.
It has also been noticed by the head of the Maritime Operations Center, the commander, who visited the ship Toni Joutsia.
“They have enormous pride in their own work. The officers also treat their subordinates very respectfully,” says Joutsia.
He sees a difference in the way the Finnish Navy and the US Navy and Marines operate.
“Each activity has its own factor there. We are used to doing everything with a small group.”
Read more: USS Kearsarge is a mainstay of the Marine Corps – images and graphics show the ship’s features
Between it feels embarrassing to walk down long, narrow corridors when all the soldiers you meet automatically line up against the wall and give space to strangers.
There will also be some feeling of pity. Many of the soldiers on board have been at sea for half a year, separated from their families. How do you take it?
There’s always e-mail and Facetime, says the officer Stephanie Baer.
“Three generations ago, such a thing would not have been possible,” he says.
In his opinion, friendships formed on a ship are stronger than in more ordinary day jobs, because the military puts people in more challenging and dangerous situations.
“Friendships here are stronger because you get to know them so deeply here. The express task of a co-worker in a regular workplace is not to keep you alive.”
Nighttime on the warship starts when the interior lighting changes to red. It turns the atmosphere even more Top Gun. The soldiers retreat to their cabins. It does not show the Finnish journalists what kind of facilities the crew has somewhere on the lower decks.
At night there is no sleep in the punk, first it’s hot, then cold. The ship runs smoothly, but the ventilation and sewer pipes rumble. In the next bunk, the young men of the marines are hissing behind their curtains.
The cabin is directly under the flight deck and it becomes clear at four in the morning. That’s when the preparation for the morning’s flight operations begins. On the deck, heavy lashing chains start to be moved, which wakes up many. The rustling steel church reminds us where we are even in our sleep.
In the morning, flight preparations continue. About a hundred soldiers walk from one end of the deck to the other in a large group, looking for anything loose on the deck that could drift into the engines and cause serious situations. It seems exactly the kind of way of working that you would expect from the giant army of a superpower.
On deck waiting for two Osprey transport aircraft. One is loaded with journalists, the other with a group of marines. They are going to the island of Jussarö to practice, among other things, reconnaissance for ten days.
They quickly had time to show pictures of a previous similar exercise in Sweden, where they built shelters from twigs and lichen that should not be seen by thermal cameras or drones.
The airman provides a helmet and a life jacket, which includes an oxygen tank that lasts for two minutes and a mouthpiece.
The Osprey first lifts its passengers straight up, then its engines settle into horizontal flight and it kicks off surprisingly quickly to high speed. Kearsarge, visible from the open rear ramp, will be far behind in no time. The noise is terrible.
Shortly before landing in Hanko, it offers yet another surprise. The plane brakes mid-flight, which seems counterintuitive. Then the plane touches the heathery square of the Syndalen shooting range.
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