In the Navy: Travels on the USS Fort McHenry

I never considered going into the military but I’ve nevertheless saw the US Navy as my ‘armed service of choice.’ My dad served a couple years, and finished his tour of duty a few months after I was born — at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. So that sort of makes me a navy brat, right?

Recently I got the chance to spend a couple nights aboard the USS Fort McHenry en route from Norfolk to Baltimore, and I jumped at the chance for a glimpse of the experiences my dad had during his European deployment decades ago. It was fun. I shared a tight three-berth bunk space with a couple pilots. I got lost in the maze of confusing inner passageways. I snagged a late-evening PBJ with a rather intense marine officer. And reaching Baltimore, I stood on the deck as we passed the ship’s namesake Fort McHenry (which inspired a certain poem known as the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’) and docked in time to join Baltimore’s Sailabration for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

Being aboard a ship was eye-opening, more easy going than Mountie school (for this civilian anyway), and a real privilege I won’t forget.

I have some video coming of sailors sharing their ‘dream port’ for a five-day pass. Meanwhile, here are some photos.

The well deck of the USS Fort McHenry fills with water so amphibious vehicles — not unlike those you see crashing the beaches of Normandy in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ — can come and go. In quieter times, it’s used for dodgeball games.
Navy food wasn’t bad at all. But I did get to eat with the officers.
Working the flight deck is a standing job. A crew of 20 were there to oversee the entry into Baltimore’s harbor.
Can someone please send some toilet paper to the 02 deck?
The USS Fort McHenry passes Fort McHenry.
After watching the USS Fort McHenry effortlessly tie up to a ship at sea to re-fuel, it was hilarious watching the slow-going civilian crew in Baltimore take an hour to tie up their little truck to set the exit ramp in place. I’m sort of thinking they get paid by the hour.
This is as close as I got to the ‘I’m king of the world!’ moment on the USS Fort McHenry.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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