Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dispatch from the Road: Newport, RI

In the Spring of 1987, I graduated from UVA on a Sunday, played golf with my buddies on a Monday, and reported to my new ship on a Tuesday.  Shortly thereafter, we got underway and headed out in to the Atlantic to chase a Soviet submarine around off the coast of South Carolina.  When that tasking was over, we did not return to Norfolk but to Newport RI, where we would undergo a three week maintenance period in order to ensure the underutilized maintenance facility there got some use.  As luck would have it, I was scheduled to leave my ship in late August to head back to Newport to attend the first of what turned out to be a year's worth of school, most of it there.  So the early trip there gave me a headstart on the other apartment hunters that would soon descend on the town, looking for places to live.  We were the very end of the Reagan Navy, and my class at Division Officer school was packed.

I knew nothing about Newport when the ship pulled in, but one of my new buddies there was an old hand, having gone to college at Holy Cross and then spending summers there.  I was unprepared for just how much fun the town could be, but I put my 22 year old liver and newfound steady paycheck to work seeing just how far both could go.  Not alone, it seemed the entire wardroom was on a similar mission.  I'm not sure how much actual maintenance got done that summer, but I do remember an awful lot of tough hangovers, good meals, and shoreside chicanery. 

This was the beginning of a love-affair with Newport that continues to this day.  You see, the surface force of the US Navy has much of its training base there, and I would return to Newport for extended periods three more times in my career.  Additionally, it is the home of the Naval War College, and so during my last tour at the Pentagon when I worked on strategy, many more trips to Newport were necessary.  Only once in my career did a long stay in Newport coincide with Summer, but I learned to love the place in winter anyway.  Christmas in Newport really is a great thing.

In fact, the first holiday I spent away from home was Thanksgiving, 1987, when I had my soon to be wife (an then ex-wife) up for the Thanksgiving break. We cooked a Perdue chicken in our antiquated stove and had a wonderful time.  My worst memory of that time wasn't specific, so much as it was the general pain of walking from where Ensigns were allowed to park to the trailers that served as steam engineering school at the time.  Perched right on the shores of the Naragansett Bay, the wind seemed constantly to assault on directly, and I have never known cold like those walks to the trailers. 

I returned to Newport late August of 1993 to attend Department Head School, a little older and wiser, and tending to the demise of my four year marriage.  These were the early months of my great eschewing of alcohol, and there was something very different about the place (from my first stay) without the aid of copious amounts of beer.  I still loved it, but for different reasons.  Those who were at this school with me had chosen to make the Navy a career, each of us having had already prime opportunities to jump ship and head off into the civilian world.  Many were married with children.  In fact most were.  As a(n) (almost) single guy, I was something of a novelty.  I spent six months there this time, living in the carriage house of one of the great mansions of Newport that had been turned into condos.  It was a time of semi-serious study and the making of lifelong friends. 

In the Summer of 1999, I was back for XO school, which wasn't really long enough to merit getting a place in town, so I, like the rest of my class, bunked in the "Suisse Chalet" on base, which was an execrable existence in a bad "public private venture" hotel that scooped up our per-diem and provided us with meager shelter.  In the Spring of 2004 I was back for CO school and back in the Suisse Chalet. 

This week, I am at a nice little spot just over the town line from Newport in Middletown, to attend the Current Strategy Forum at the War College, a two-day gathering of navalists and active duty folks brought here to commiserate over the sorry state of you pick it A) the Navy  B) the making of strategy  C) Navy Strategy D) Strategists.  I have known many of the people here for years now, and like most of them.  My plane landed Monday afternoon and I drove my rental car from Providence on a delightful Spring day.  I don't know if you've every approached Newport from Jamestown before, but there is a huge bridge connecting the two, higher in span than one would ordinarily be for such a place, but this was to accommodate the aircraft carriers built once upon a time near Quonset.  As you crest the height of the bridge, the view laid out before you is beautiful, with the War College on your port bow and the old town of Newport broad to starboard.  As I made this drive Monday, I found myself drifting back in time to the earlier trips I'd made there by car, usually to being long stays.  I remembered the anticipation of a new step in my career, the thrill of being thrown in with a new group of folks that I didn't know, and the virtual certainty that when it was over, I would have new friends for life.

Perhaps that is why I love Newport.  It is so very closely associated in my mind with good friends.  I'm here for the remainder of the day, then it is back to Easton for a week before I start an extended vacation.  More news on that later.


Mudge said...

Yep. One of the very best of towns where many of the very best of my Navy memories were formed.

Dear old DAD said...

Dear old Dad went to boot camp in Newport March 1951 and stood several 4 to 8 clothes line wathes in bitter cold.

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