Tag Archives: USA

A Day with the Coast Guard

One of the most important jobs in the Caribbean is that of the Coast Guard. These brave men and women are ultimately responsible for the safety and security of the islands. They are often an unseen presence, but Ben, Stacey, Turner and I had a chance to meet them up close during an event this week.

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Protecting Caribbean waters is an international effort. There are four primary countries that protect Saint Martin: Netherlands/ St. Maarten, France, Great Britain, and the United States. We had a chance to explore a boat from each of these nations and talk to the crew.

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This is the Poema, a Dutch ship outfitted to stay at sea for two weeks at a time. We thought the gun at the front of the ship was pretty snazzy. Not something you’d want to have pointed at you!

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I never realized how many knobs and buttons it takes to drive a military vessel. The more I learn about the military, the more I respect and appreciate them. You can see one of the ship’s officers through the window, giving a tour and answering questions.

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Jay and Sandy gave the Poema additional cool points just by stepping on board. Sandy is a classmate of Ben’s at American University of the Caribbean. We stopped to say hey before making our way to the next vessel.

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The biggest boat I’ve ever driven is a canoe. I was happy to sit in the driver’s seat of this police boat, but I’m glad I don’t have to actually steer it.

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After leaving the friendly Nederlanders, we boarded a small floating piece of home.

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We approved of the name.

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As much as I love being an expat, there was something wonderful about seeing the flag of the good old USA. I didn’t realize how much I miss seeing the Stars and Stripes until I stopped for a moment to watch it flutter in the Caribbean breeze.

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Here’s Captain Stacey, ready to embark on the Reef Shark.

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It was nice to stop and talk with some of the American Coast Guard. Expats, no matter their situation, are always eager to talk with someone from the home country. We compared overseas experiences, talked about where we’d been born, and discusses what’s best and worst about the change in location. Suddenly, Arizona and Georgia and Michigan didn’t seem to very far away from each other.

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Turner enjoyed the maps in each boat. Some of them were extremely detailed.

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I had to smile at this quirky hula girl on the dash. She’s a little out of place for a ship stationed in Puerto Rico, but I appreciated the touch of humor in this room of gadgets and gizmos.

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I attempted to quickly attune my ear to French accents after the familiar U.S. drawl of the American officers. The Sualouiga is a fairly large boat, with a massive engine and a larger crew than the vessels we previously toured. What struck me most about the tour was the number of back-up safety features that our guide pointed out to us. Nobody is going to die on this boat!

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Ben admired the wood interior of the control room. He especially liked the classic wheel.

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I wish I could remember how many horsepower this engine has. The boat had two of them, in addition to a couple of large generators. To put the size in perspective, the engine came up to my shoulder. I would have liked to stay longer and look closer, but the engine room was hot and stuffy. We moved on.

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Our next stop was a Sint Maartin rescue boat. It’s a little orange boat suited for choppy seas and quick returns. Everyone on board was relaxing with cool drinks on the hot afternoon, so we took a quick look around, thanked them, and went back to the pier.

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We watched the patrol boats perform crazy maneuvers in the bay.

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What’s a military fair without camo face paint?

We tried shouldering the 100-pound packs the Coast Guard wear to train in. Thy bulletproof vest was heavy enough for me, but Ben and Turner could join the Coast Guard if they wanted to!

Since guns are illegal on the Dutch side of the island, this is the first time any of us have held a firearm in months. They were unloaded, of course.IMG_2183

Our final stop was a huge Dutch ship. We had to wait a bit to go on board, since the commanding officer was preparing to walk down the gangway. It was cool to see the show of military order and respect that accompanied this event.

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The gun at the front of this ship was gigantic. We’ve come a long way since cannons!

 

Ben especially appreciated this helicopter on the ship’s landing pad.

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It’s good to know that our security is in good hands. I’ve always had a lot of respect for US military, but now I have a high regard for Dutch, French, and British military as well. Experiencing the work of international military alliances firsthand is something I’ll always remember. I hope they come together to do this event again next year! It was definitely one of my favorite things that we’ve done on the island so far. Where else can you freely tour and photograph military vessels from four different nations?

Dreams of Tomorrow

I believe that every bad quality can become something positive. Stubborn people know how to stand their ground. Argumentative people make great lawyers. Messy kids grow up to be creative adults.

I always thought I was discontent. My parents gave me the opportunity to travel the United States (the plan is to visit every state before we die; I still have ten to go). Every time we went somewhere, I’d leave begging my dad from the back seat, “Can’t we just move here? Why can’t we live here? Wouldn’t it be cool to live by Such and Such National Park? Wouldn’t it be cool to get RAIN sometimes? The baseball team here is so much better than the Diamondbacks! Can we move here? Why not?” There was nothing wrong with living in Phoenix. I had a great house and a great community. I just wanted something… different. I thought I was ridiculously discontent, and I probably was. It was something I had to pray about and work through. But maybe the root of my interest in moving somewhere else wasn’t really a contentment problem. Maybe the root of it all was my wanderlust, and I just didn’t know how to productively channel it yet.

I still feel that wanderlust. I still feel restless and look forward to going somewhere new. According to my college psychology textbooks, I’m going to outgrow it in about five years. Despite what the experts say, I doubt that it will ever leave me. I’ve tasted the expat life, and I don’t know if I can ever go back and put down roots. Even here, on the tropical island of Saint Martin, I feel a restlessness. I want to peek behind the curtain and find out what comes next. I want to sell stuff, pack, and move again. I want to discover someplace new.

Some of my most breathtaking moments are sunsets after surfing. I like to paddle out away from the waves, sit on my board, and watch the golden highlights play over the azure surface of the water. I love to watch the blue sky turn slowly cotton-candy pink, reflecting in pastel colors on the waves. Yesterday, as I watched the sun set behind the hills of the island, I couldn’t help but realize how lucky I am to be able to experience such a moment. I felt like God was painting a watercolor masterpiece just for me. How many times will I surf at sunset over our two years here? Fifty, maybe? A hundred? I wonder what it will be like to say goodbye to these tropical evenings.

Do you want to know the truth? I’m OK with knowing that this won’t last for the rest of my life. I’m OK knowing that I’ll have to sell my board in a few months. I don’t mind that I probably will never live on an island again. I’m OK with a limited number of ocean sunsets. I can’t imagine a more wonderful place to live than Saint Martin, and I love being here. But there’s so much more out there to discover. I want to spend as many days as possible watching the sun set over the waves while I live here, but I also want to watch it set over the buildings of Prague someday. I want to stargaze from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I want to reach the top of Kilimanjaro. I want to ride a train in Toronto with my friends and a whole passel of Little League boys. I want to go to a K-Pop concert, a Sydney opera, and a Broadway show. I want to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.

In a year and a half, Ben’s medical school basic science classes will end and we’ll move again, this time for his clinical rotations. According to those who have gone before, we have virtually zero control over where we go, and we won’t know where we’re going until it’s almost time to leave. We could be moving states every month or so for two years. You know what? I think I’m OK with that. I might even be looking forward to it. There’s so much to experience in this great big world of ours, and I’m ready to take it on.