Thursday, January 31, 2008

USS Germantown

Almost two months ago to the day this big ship was in port! The USS Germantown.

When it and the crew were here Angelo wrote a good story and both the Tribune and Variety did stories as well.

I had planned to do a post about my experience back then but that was just about the time Christmas season got into full swing. In fact writing this now I'm reminded how I was unable to take the ship tour Angelo talks about because it was during the local artists Christmas bazaar and I was selling DVDs! More on that another time...

I recently received this in the mail! A note from Commander Steve Vincent himself!

I first heard about the ships arrival a few days before it was due primarily because I'm a member of the Chamber of Commerce and they alert us of the ships arrival. With a reception and the Adopt a Sailor program the Chamber attempts to welcome personnel as warmly as possible and ensure their experience here is as enjoyable as it can be. By the way MVA also alerts its members but that is usually on the day the ship arrives or after it leaves!

I also knew of the ships arrival a head of time (by now you must realize that the military really does not advertise it's moves) because of discussions within the dive community regarding how the industry would cope with a large influx of customers. This particular ship had a large crew, I believe upwards of 800 or so, and they were here for R&R after a tour in Iraq.

When I received the Chamber email I contacted Angelo and as Angelo does he organized a large clean up of Garapan on the Friday which just happened to be a "Daddy Day" for me and my first, "never to forget" memory of that weekend.

At the first word of a clean up this seasoned veteran was off to the races! She even made it on the 6PM news! Not only is she ready to work but she also turned out to be a pretty good little ambassador herself! It took her a bit but she was soon the entertainment!

She even met this fella who has the same first and middle name only reversed! How cool is that. Of course I'm not too sure how good I'll feel about her ability to attract so much attention when she's 18!

I didn't get to take many pictures. I had to keep a sharp eye out but, I did manage to talk to some of the guys and what genuinely came across was their desire to pitch in and help out as well as meet the people they are serving. The service men teamed up with students from Garapan Elementary and you could see everyone had a great time. Of course the other thing that stood out was just how young these guys were! I mean I know I'm getting up there but I felt OLD!

It was here I had my first opportunity to meet the Commander and some of the officers. While chasing a 22 month old around the post clean up BBQ I managed to hear a little bit of his appreciation for the warm welcome he and the crew were receiving as well as be part of conversations regarding far away wives, babies and kids. I honestly can't imagine it! They change so fast - to miss 6 months, a year or more at a time would devastate me.

It was here I was also able to pass on a DVD to Commander Vincent. Yep, I'll admit doing so is in part a PR move but, as I've discussed on this blog before, it also has to do with the joy of giving. After speaking with many of the crew it was obvious that not all of them - in fact most, were not going to experience our diving first hand so my DVD would bring it to them! At the time Commander Vincent expressed how he wished he'd had a copy on the way into port so he could have played it throughout the ship!

The second opportunity I had to meet some of the guys was at the Chamber reception held on the beach at the Hyatt. For a time I went into photograph mode. Only about 30 or so very similar sunset photos! No green flash.
Then on into the reception where former Chamber President Won Pon gave a plaque of appreciation.
Judge Wiesman who heads the Chambers Armed Forces Committee said a few words and also presented the commander with something but to be honest I've forgotten what!

And of course all the special people pose for a picture! That, by the way, was Executive Director Christine Parke's last official function - she will be missed.
Then another plaque and more gifts from the ship. This time it was Ruth Coleman from the Veterans Affairs office giving the one above while receiving her very own embroidered USS Germantown cap below!Another picture of the important people! Including Thomas in the red shirt. There's an inside joke with him in there which I don't have time to elaborate on but he'll get it because he knows I'm really bad with names!Another picture of the important people!

Besides all the warm remarks and happy faces and the open bar a couple of things stood out to me when the Commander made his remarks.

First, he commented on what a great reception they were given all over the island and that they really felt it was genuine and not a contrived effort on the part of the residents.

Second, he also took time to explain that when his crew come to a port like this they truly feel safe and can relax more easily than in other areas of the world where, although they may be among allies, they are not necessarily on sovereign land or among people with similar ideals! A R&R port stop in the Philippines or Africa for example does not necessarily come with the same comfort level as a US territory such as Saipan.

These factors coupled with our beautiful beaches, warm sunshine and clear waters make the islands an ideal retreat for these military personnel. To not take full advantage of such an opportunity on both sides would be ridiculous. Of course Guam can offer a similar atmosphere but with the military build up over there the number of service men / women that will want to get off that rock for a vacation is sure to increase as well!

The question is can we handle it? Specifically can the dive industry absorb large one-time influxes of English speaking customers? This is a debate that is going on within the dive community right now. One of the officers who had a great time diving with Speedy Tertle told me there was at least 60 certified divers and that, if they had of known about our diving, they potentially would have taken advantage of it. That does not even include those who want to learn or who dive but are not certified.

We cannot take this market for granted and should cater to it as much as possible. Another aspect of the commander’s comments that stuck with me was the importance his crew places on the service and ambassador roles that come with being a soldier.

I think Commander Vincent’s note clearly indicates there is a tool available to attract potential divers in the DVD as well as evidence that our natural resource deliver a world-class standard.

Now, the dive community, business and MVA need to work together to ensure these ambassadors have every opportunity to experience what we have and receive safe, world-class service. With this scenario will come a wave of word of mouth that can be spread around the rest of the world free of charge!

If a ship of 800 men and women spreading the word can use my DVD to help showcase what we have to the world then I think it's a little well placed PR. Besides, especially with notes like this, it just feels good to know someone has appreciated your work.

Thanks Commander Vincent and the crew of the USS Germantown - hope to see you again soon!

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