Formerly known as "Cruzers in Korea"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sweet Home Alabama

Saturday, July 10, 2010 2
I love the South and Alabama in particular.  You get the "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" in the south.  People wave to you when you're driving by.  Folks will hold the door open for you.  Smoke actually comes out of the exhaust stacks of barbecue restaurants in the south.  What kind of real barbecue place doesn't have smoke coming out of its stack?  The kind without barbecue pits, that's what kind.  I digress.  Only in the south can you get SEC football, large mouth bass, Golden Flake potato chips, Blue Bell ice cream, black eyed peas, sweet tea and multiple American Idol winners.  Okay, so maybe you can get some of these things outside of the south, but it just ain't the same if you're not enjoying those things with company that boasts a friendly drawl or southern twang - especially company of the female persuasion with a sweet, syrupy southern accent.  I'm a very lucky man to have married my southern belle.  Yeah, Carol's drawl is pretty much gone but all it takes is that weekly phone call to her mama and she's back on the twang wagon once again.  At least for the duration of that phone call anyway.

So after leaving Korea in colorful and almost accident-free fashion (see previous blog post), we landed in Birmingham. Alabama to spend a few days of visiting with Carol's family.  Wish we could've stayed for the 4th of July, but the timing just didn't work out.  Still, it was good to get our Alabama fix.

We picked these from Uncle Sammy's blueberry bushes.  That's become a favorite summer past time now.  Nothing like grabbing a handful of these bad boys and plopping them in your mouth.  Veruca Salt, eat your heart out.

So these are the ones that CJ picked.  His are a little less "blue."  I'm thinking the reason is because of his slight colorblindness.  The setting sun didn't help much either.

Carol's Mom made a nice blueberry pie from Uncle Sammy's blueberry bushes.  The pie was quickly inhaled.  Eating massive quantities of food was a common theme during our time in Alabama.  Must get on a workout program soon. 

Gotta have dessert for a balanced meal.  Blue Bell is a southern staple... are sleepy dogs on hot sidewalks.  The quick brown fox jumped over the ... For all of you that never took a typing class, I'll let you google the ending to that sentence. 

Although CJ's game of choice is chess these days, the boys enjoyed a friendly game of checkers down in the country.

What self respecting southerner doesn't own a Robert E. Lee statue or other Civil War print or memorabilia?

Here's the bookshelf of a beloved family member and obvious southerner.  While reading some of these books may help folks to better understand the south, to capture the true southern essence, you have to come on down and experience it for yourself.

One of our all time southern favorites.  Gotta love the CB.  This is where I discovered that pancakes with holes is a good thing.

I also discovered the simplest of intelligence tests at the Cracker Barrel.  Are you familiar with this game that they have on their tables?

Not to brag (which means I'm about to brag), according to my last attempt at this game, I'm a genius.

The view from Aunt Annie and Uncle David's porch.

 Chilling with the Alabama cousins.  Cooper is sporting a fresh mohawk.

 CJ with Uncle Sammy and Carol's Mom. 

The family was nice enough to do a pre-4th of July pool party since we couldn't be there for the big bash.  We even did the parade around the pool, honored the military veterans and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  Very nice. 

We arrive in Memphis in two days.  Living in Tennessee, we'll be able to visit Carol's family a whole lot more now. This is the closest we've ever lived to family throughout my entire career. It's about a four hour drive from Memphis to Birmingham.  I'm thinking Carol's accent might become a little more prominent during this two year tour.  I'm hoping our eating habits won't mirror the last couple of days.  Either way, we're glad to be back in the south and closer to Sweet Home Alabama.

p.s.  Since we're no longer in Korea, changes will be coming to the blog.  Coming soon...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bama the Brain Damaged Dog

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 0
Man I miss our old dog Fred, our family friend for the past 16 years.  We're looking to get another dog when we get to Tennessee.  We really love our four-legged friends and got a small taste of dogs (no pun intended being Filipino and all) while we were in Alabama.  Out in the country where Carol's family lives, most of the dogs aren't on leashes.  Most of them are free to romp around to their heart's content.  Our car got chased by dogs countless times.  That's country living.

This is Bama, blissfully sunbathing on Aunt Annie's sidewalk.  Her name is short for Alabama.

Bama is a sweet dog but she's got a couple of things wrong with her.  She was hit by a car a while ago and hasn't been the same since.  Some of the family thinks she's got brain damage.  When it rains, the other dogs are smart enough to scamper under the porch for shelter.  Bama stays exactly where she's at and looks around strangely as if she's asking, "what's this strange stuff falling out of the sky?"  She gets totally confused and seems to wake up to a different world every day.

I don't know.  After seeing how happy this dog can be over a simple hot sidewalk, maybe she's not so brain damaged after all.  Looks like she's discovered the secret of life.  This is exactly what I want to do when I retire.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Change of Command Ceremony - 25 June 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010 0
Our two year adventure in Korea has come to an end.  The family is now back in the US.  My good friend, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel "Tripp" Blanton and I took over our commands two years ago on 20 June 2008 in a joint change of command ceremony - "joint" meaning Army and Navy.  I'm of course with the US Navy and the Commanding Officer of MSCO Korea.  Tripp is the Battalion Commander for the US Army's 837th Transportation Battalion.  On that rainy day in 2008, the ceremony was held onboard the USNS POMEROY.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn't great so we held the ceremony inside the ship on one of her decks.  It was a very nice event even though we had to revert to our inclement weather plan.

Fast forward two years.  On 25 June 2010, MSCO Korea and 837 Transportation Battalion held its joint change of command ceremony onboard the USNS WATSON at Pier 8, Busan.  Our two commands have worked together closely over the last two years to get our missions done so it made a great deal of sense to do a combined event.  The change of command ceremony is a time honored tradition that formally transfers the authority of command from one Commanding Officer to another.  For many CO's, it is an emotional time, one of reflection and thanks.  This ceremony held special meaning since it coincided with the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War.  What better way to do this joint event than on this special anniversary onboard a US Navy ship named after a US Army medal of honor recipient, Army Private George Watson.

The weather was perfect!  During the rehearsals, the sun was beating down hard to the point where people needed sunblock and water bottles.  We were concerned that it was going to be too hot.  The cloud cover and temperature on the 25th was great.  The wind was relatively calm.  It made for a great ceremony and a memorable day.

The official party gathered in the conference room in the morning.  This was our rallying point prior to heading to the bridge of the ship for a private awards ceremony.  On the left is Tripp's family.  The MPSRON 3 Commodore, Captain Awai is in the middle with the glasses.  CDR Dave "Face" Bartell is next to him.  He's the new CO that replaced me.  My former boss, Commodore Denman is next to me.

Here we are heading up the stern ramp of the ship.  The USNS WATSON is an LMSR - Large, Medium Speed Roll on / Roll off ship.

We decided to do a separate awards ceremony on the bridge of the ship prior to the change of command to save time during the big ceremony.  Because of all the speakers in our double ceremony, we were looking to save time wherever we could.  It's typical for the outgoing commanders to receive "end of tour" awards, even knuckleheads like Tripp and myself.

Brigadier General Harvey, Commanding General of the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, also presented two high level volunteer awards to both Marty Blanton and Carol.  They've both done so much for the Daegu and Busan communities respectively.  Really proud of Carol and all that she's done volunteering with the two orphanages, BIWA, church Sunday School, being the Busan Foreign School PTA President and her work with other community associations.  Very well deserved for both ladies!

Colonel Yoon, Commander of the ROKPOG, also presented awards to Tripp and I from the ROK Transcom Commander, Brigadier General Lee.  The strong relationships we were able to forge with the "Triad" - MSCO Korea, 837 and the ROKPOG is something that I'll always remember.  That's Corporal Lee translating in the background.  He did such a great job with helping us bridge the communication challenges we faced.

Tripp and I presented special flags that were flown over Pier 8 on the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War to the Master of the USNS WATSON, Captain Chris Larkin and to General Harvey for all of their help with the ceremony.

The ceremony was held on the flight deck of the ship.  As an aviator, I thought that was very appropriate.  Here's the scene before the crowd shuffled in.  The yellow building to the left is where my office is (was).

This unique ceremony featured traditions from both the US Navy and Army.  Per Navy tradition, the official party was "whistled in" with an important piece of nautical gear called a boatswain's pipe.  Chief Boatswain's Mate Albert Henderson did the honors with the whistle while one of our Navy Reserves rang the bell as the high ranking officers were announced.  Sidebuoys composed of members from the US Army, Navy and Air Force as well as the Korean Army and Korean Service Corps, flanked the entrance area where the official party would be "piped" in.  Here is General Harvey being piped aboard.

One of my last memories as CO

Tripp's turn

The Color Guard from Fleet Activities Chinhae

Petty Officer Ritchie presenting flowers to Carol and gifts to the boys on behalf of the command.

The passing of the colors is an important Army tradition.  Historically, military leaders would use a visible symbol around which members of their command could rally.  The colors (or flags) stood as prominent symbols of the commands themselves.  Here I am taking the MSCO Korea colors from my Command Chief.  

Commander Dave Bartell now takes the colors from the Commodore.

LTC Kris Rogers takes the 837 colors.


I've given many speeches over the years but this was one of the most emotional for me.  I went longer than I wanted but it was very important for me to acknowledge those that made this tour possible.  

At every change of command, MSCO Korea recognizes one individual within the command with the Memorial Leadership Award.  This honor went to Mr. Xavier Monroy.

We were honored to have General Harvey speak at the ceremony.  He was extremely kind in his remarks about Tripp and I.  He has been a true friend to Pier 8 and Busan for many years.

This is Ms. Chon Won Hui, the widow of Mr. Kang, one of our Marine Transportation Assistants that passed away in June 2008 due to a massive heart attack.  His memory lives on with the MSCO Korea Memorial Leadership Award.  We were honored to have her and her children at the ceremony. 

With members of the Busan International Women's Association (BIWA)

Jake having a moment

Good friends from the Korean American Busan Association (KABA)

I won't forget these lovely ladies!

The ceremony wouldn't have happened without a lot of hard work from many people.  Thank you XO, X, Chief, the entire staff, Sergeant Major Shakespeare, Wendy, Kemmeh and all of the others that made this event such a success.  I know I was a pain about many things.  Thanks for putting up with me.

It was really great to see people from so many different groups in attendance - the various military commands from Busan, Daegu and Chinhae, Navy Reserves, Korean Service Corps, BIWA, Sung Ae Won and Miewon Orphanages, KABA, KAPA, People to People International, friends from church, Busan Foreign School, my Filipino brothers and sisters, neighbors and others.  But most importantly, it was great having Carol, CJ and Jake there.  Two years ago, the family was still in the US when I took the reins.  It was too difficult for them to be here due to school and other reasons.  Glad I had the opportunity to thank them in person for their great support.

And so now I close a chapter to an incredible part of my life.  Who knows what the future might bring?  I might be saying "Anyung Hasayo" sooner than I think.  Or in my case, "Narang Chumchupshida!"  As the Koreans like to say, it isn't good bye - just so long for now...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Change of Command Article

Saturday, July 3, 2010 0
Here's a recent article on our joint change of command ceremony held on 25 June 2010.  This was also the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War.  The weather cooperated in a huge way for the ceremony and reception.  We had over 400 people in attendance onboard the USNS WATSON.

June 25, 2010

Korea-based Military Sealift Command office changes leadership

Military Sealift Command’s operations hub on the Korean peninsula changed hands today when Cmdr. David Bartell relieved Cmdr. Christopher Cruz as commanding officer of MSC Office Korea in a unique, joint Army/Navy change of command ceremony aboard large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Watson at Pier Eight in Busan, Republic of Korea.
Army Lt. Col. Kristian Rogers also relieved Army Lt. Col. Samuel Blanton as commanding officer of the Korea-based 837th Transportation Battalion during the ceremony, which had more than 300 attendees and incorporated traditions from both services. 
MSCO Korea plays a vital role in defense of the Republic of Korea by supporting MSC ships in the Korean theater of operations and providing fuel, supplies and ammunition to forces operating in the area. MSCO Korea coordinates closely with the 837th Transportation Battalion, which oversees and executes shoreside movement of supplies delivered to shore by MSC ships.  More than 90 percent of all cargo destined for U.S. forces in Korea arrives at Pier Eight.
“Today’s joint ceremony is just another example of how the Army and Navy coordinate closely on all levels, even though we are different services with different cultures,” said Capt. Chip Denman, commander of MSC’s Sealift Logistics Command Far East, which oversees MSCO Korea. “Here in Korea, this coordination ensures that U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, as well as international military partners operating in theater, have the equipment and supplies they need at the precise time and location they need them.” 
“Under both Cmdr. Cruz and Lt.Col. Blanton, both MSCO and the 837th have forged a deep friendship and unity that is unmatched in the history of Pier Eight,” said the ceremony’s principal speaker Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Harvey, Commanding General, 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. 
A 1994 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Bartell comes to MSCO Korea from the staff of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C.  Bartell is a seasoned naval aviator who served aboard aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS John F. Kennedy in support of operations Southern Watch and Allied Force.  He completed two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I’ve heard nothing but great things about MSCO Korea, and I am very fortunate to take command of this fine organization,” Bartell said.
In Cruz’s 24 months at MSCO Korea, the command’s operational tempo tripled as it provided logistics support to more than 240 MSC ships visiting 10 Republic of Korea ports.  Cruz also led the command’s participation in major Korea-defense exercises including Ulchi Freedom Guardian and Key Resolve. 
Cruz was also a champion of numerous charities in and around Busan.
“The Cruz family forged special relationships with our host nation, which will last for years to come,” said Denman.  In recognition of his efforts, Denman presented Cruz with the Meritorious Service Medal.
All honored guests were piped aboard Watson and, per Army tradition, both incoming and outgoing commanding officers participated in the passing the command flag, symbolizing the transfer of command. The ceremony concluded with a rendition of both the Army and Navy songs.
Watson’s civilian master Capt. Chris Larkin served as the ceremony’s host. Crewed by civilians working for a private company under charter to MSC, Watson is a Navy ship named for Army hero, Pvt. George Watson, who received the Medal of Honor for service during World War II. With more than 390,000 square feet of cargo space, Watson is ideally suited to transport military cargo anywhere around the world. 
MSC operates approximately 110 noncombatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships at sea, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wrecked 'Em, Dang Near Killed 'Em...

Friday, July 2, 2010 1
If anyone knows the joke that goes along with the punchline I mention in the title of this blog post, please let me know. Even though it's probably one of the most infamous punchlines ever, I've still never heard the actual joke.  Anyway, the punchline reminds me of our last morning in Korea, where we were minding our own beeswax and making good time to the airport to sadly leave this great country.  When all of a sudden, we come to a screeching halt because of this:

If you look to the left of the picture, you'll see the wrecked tractor trailer jack-knifed on the highway.  This thing blocked traffic for hours.  The side walls of the highway were banged up and wreckage was strewn all over the place.  I felt like we were on the inside of a giant tumbled over Jenga game.  One of the policemen told us the driver of the truck was drunk.  The drunk driver hit some foreigners in another car.  One of the accident victims was still stuck and the other was in critical condition when I took this picture.

It took awhile just to get the emergency vehicles to the scene of the accident.  Haney and her father were kind enough to drive us to the airport.  She insisted actually.  Now that I look back on the situation, I'm very glad that she did.  Her father was awesome.  He was a real leader out there, directing traffic and having people move their cars so the ambulance could escape from that crowded scene to get the victim to the hospital.  The accident victim was in really bad shape too.  I don't know what happened to the person in the ambulance but I do know that Haney's father helped get them to the hospital a lot faster.

I didn't know the Jedi Mind Trick worked in Korea until that morning.  Haney's father used it with great efficiency that day.  He would motion people to move their cars... and they would move their cars.  He was also a heck of a driver.  He drafted closely behind the ambulance like a NASCAR stock car driver and passed a bunch of traffic.  They felt bad about us missing our plane, which wasn't a big deal at all.  We ended up re-booking a better flight route but more importantly, I think we ended up being bystanders in that accident rather than being in the accident ourselves.

We got a little bit of a late start that morning, departing our hotel five or ten minutes late.  Our best guess is that we missed the highway accident by only five or ten minutes.  We also got to spend a little more time with Haney, one of the sweetest girls you'll ever meet in your life.  She's a very faithful person and believes that we received some help that morning, especially considering the timing of everything.  I tend to agree with her.
That's Haney and her father on the right during a visit to Pier 8.

And now we're getting back into the groove here in the US.  Definitely feeling some reverse culture shock.  More on that later.  Until next time.
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