Three hours into the flight I could tell we had slowed by the change in vibrations and then twenty minutes later we were back up to speed. Another inflight refueling had been completed. This time it was before we got out of the range of the carrier. I went back to sleep until I heard the gear go down again. We were landing at Travis Air Force Base where Air Force One was waiting.
It took two hours to get clear of Travis Air Force Base. The two media who had been with us had been giving live reports over their satellite phones and there was a crowd of reporters waiting. I had to give a news conference or face the Wrath of Kahn – the media.
‘’As many of you now know I have spent the last two days talking with survivors of the Hawaii volcano tragedy, first at Camp Parks. Their stories of survival are horrific and their eye witness accounts to the massive eruption and death toll is unbelievable and the individual struggles to survive, heroic,’’ I said.
‘’As you also know I spent time at Hawaii and saw the devastation first hand. I visited the hospital ship ‘Mercy’ and other ships, talking with those that had just been transported from the main island of Hawaii. I also made a helicopter trip over the islands,’’ I said.
“Based on the reports and observations, I believe the rescue of those still living will be completed in the next few days. There are still nearly one hundred thousand in bunkers and Navy ships waiting to be transferred to the cruise ships transporting them to the US,’’ I said.
‘’If the long-range weather prediction is correct, there is going to be a massive storm hitting the area in the next seven to ten days. If that holds true, all the ships will have to navigate to safer waters ending rescue and recovery efforts. Obviously, the push is on to find any remaining survivors and get all survivors on ships headed to the west coast, ‘’ I said.
‘’Two supply ships – the USS Acme and the Red Lion – resupplied critically low food and other supplies to all the ships working the tragedy. Thousands of extra people on board rapidly deplete ships stores. Two more should arrive late tomorrow; the USS Kroger and the USS Albertson. Those two will place additional supplies on the rescue ships in the event the Navy ships have to race to the coast to escape the storm with the survivors on them,’’ I said.
‘’We have to be thankful that with all the hours the helicopters are flying with little time for maintenance, the hours that the pilots, ship crews, doctors, nurses and the rescuers on land are putting in, that there have been no serious accidents or injuries,’’ I said.
‘’I know that just about every member of the military and civilian personnel are putting in, 12, 14 and 16 hour days to help the survivors get to America as fast as humanly possible,’’ I said.
‘’Recovery and burial will continue until the ships must leave the area. Currently there are about one hundred thousand Army, Navy and Marines involved in the rescue, recovery of the deceased and grave yard operations working every available daylight minute. Along with that is the challenge of identifying as many as possible to give the living closure,’’ I said.
‘’Crowding on the ships, feeding that many people, giving them the care that is needed has been a tremendous challenge. That is not just a shipboard challenge, those currently in the bunkers must also have water and be fed as some were days without either. As you can imagine, sewage is another issue. There is no power or water and the backup generators are failing because of the ash and fuel supplies are running out,’’ I said.
‘’The elephant in the room is going to be – ‘What happens to the state of Hawaii?’ Based on my observations given the pending storm, I think all of Hawaii will have to be abandoned for the short term,’’ I said.
‘’Another item in the list leading to that decision is four busses carrying the Governor and the entire state government were found today. All were deceased,’’ I said.
‘’That said, there is going to be an effort to get the remaining Hawaiians off all the other islands – even those lightly affected by the volcano – before the storm arrives. They have little food, fresh water, power, or medical assistance available to them. We are not going to air drop or make supply runs to them for months or years,’’ I said.
‘’As soon as time permits, before the ships leave all classified weapons system will be removed. A survey of the two ships that were caught in the Pearl drydocks to see if they can be removed and repairs completed at west coast shipyards will be done as soon as tomorrow,’’ I said.
There were 200 nuclear weapons including nuclear tipped cruise missile and bombs in storage that needed to be removed. They would be guarded until then. Hopefully the helicopters and landing ships could make the transfer before the ships run from the storm. The command team had been ordered before I left to remove or destroy all classified material from all military installations.
‘’All military equipment and personnel will be reassigned to other Pacific bases for an undetermined length of time,’’ I said.
‘’On another note, there have been a lot of requests from scientific community to go there. All those requests will be denied and strictly enforced. This is not Pompey two thousand years later. By best guess, there are seven hundred thousand people missing and presumed dead in the ash and rubble,’’ I said.
‘’I am determined that we are not going to see thousands of pictures and reports of bodies in the print or electronic media or scientific journals for weeks, months or decades,’’ I said.
‘’The severity of the storm may require the graves unit return to bury any exposed bodies,’’ I added.
‘’We must thank all the people of the United States that have helped getting materials, food and medicines to those affected by the volcano. We must give special thanks to all the medical personnel that have stepped up to provide care for the injured,’’ I said.
‘’We offer special thanks to all the countries that have rushed ships to the area to assist in the effort to transport the rescued to the US. Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Australia offered assistance immediately and we accepted that assistance,’’ I said.
‘’We must thank the doctors, nurses and support groups that have put aside their families and needs to rush to the west coast to care for injured.”
‘’The effect of this tragedy is only beginning. There are going to be long term health affects for thousands. Housing is going to be another issue along with the terrible strain on all services needed to support the affected,’’ I said.
‘’I understand that the hospitals in California, including the medical facilities on all military bases there, are filled to overflowing with the survivors with severe respiratory problems, dehydration, burns and other injuries. I know that many of the new arrivals are being sent to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas hospitals. C17’s and C5’s are acting as huge ambulances to deliver patients to other states,’’ I said.
‘’It has been an extremely long day so I will not take questions. This news conference is over,’’ I said and stepped away from the microphone and walked towards Air Force One.
I was going to take a shower and get the chef to make me a hot meal including a very chilled Budweiser, hopefully so chilled there would be ice chips in it. Yes, Air Force One had its own chef.
After the shower, I dug into my go bag and came out with a nearly worn-out gym tee shirt, shorts and a pair of tennis shoes. I was already in the mood for sand, salt water, cold beer and family.
I ate a bowl of tomato soup and half a cold cut sub. Then I began putting all the ideas on paper of additional orders I would need to give in the next few days. I had pages of questions I needed answers from the experts. I had put the questions to paper on the flight from the carrier.
We were just an hour into the six – hour flight back to Andrews. I started going through the pile of notes that accumulated on the flying Oval Office. Connie had stayed in Air Force One the entire time I was gone. It was a big pile.
Even worse, there were dozens of requests for meetings – some listed as urgent – from various agencies. All of the involved agencies wanted to get to the top of the list to get the billions of appropriations they imagined would be coming. I had a feeling my family vacation was not going to be an enjoyable one.
I went through the pile and sorted them based on my thoughts of importance and spent the next four hours attaching orders and notes for responses to them. Connie and her staff could type up the letters for me to sign when they had time tomorrow or the next day.
I sent Connie to sleep in the presidential bed – she was struggling to stay awake as I came aboard. I had slept on the return flight from the island, I was in good shape. I had to insist to get her to do it.
We were on the ground an hour at Andrews, part of it was taking on fuel for flight to East Water Cay. The other part was listening to more updates for the Midwest problems that I would deal with tomorrow.
Three hours later I was walking down the beach to the big bonfire that my mates had going. I had to walk through JBG security to get to them. Marcy had left strict orders than no one was allowed on that section of the beach tonight but us. The sun was setting, I was two days late for the start of my vacation.
Two naked little boys met me fifty yards from the bonfire, each carrying an unopened Bud for me with Sara and Takeo following. I sat down on the spot and hugged them and told them how much I missed and loved them.
The first question was, ‘’Why were you gone so long, we want you to go swimming and snorkeling with us. We found some new things to look at.” The next question was “What is that ship that keeps going back and forth? It has been out there all day,’’ they said.
‘’It is the Coast Guard patrol boat ‘Sea Dog’ from Little Creek, Virginia. They are keeping an eye out for pirates and other bad guys that might give us trouble,’’ I said.
‘’Pirates here? JJ, we have some searching to do tomorrow,’’ RJ said.
I knew there were some new things for swimmers to see. Lorrie had been excited when she received permission to sink several small derelict boats for the snorkelers to investigate and act as shelter for the bonefish. There was a lot of work that had to be done to them to make them safe for all ages.
door doors to the cabins had to be removed along with anything that could trap or hang up anyone, holes had to be cut in the decks and through the hulls so one could swim through. Then rocks were added as ballast to keep them in place after they were sunk.
I drank some out of each beer between hugs and kisses and then we walked to the bonfire. There were more hugs and kisses with my mates; I know it was just a few days but it seemed like forever. And after all I had seen today, being with my family meant more than ever.
One of the gators had a cooler with hot dogs, and the tailgate was filled with the fixings in bug proof containers. I put two dogs on long skewers and with both boys helping, waited for them to cook.
Maybe it was the salt air or the bonfire built with drift wood or the company of family, but the hot dogs were the best I had in a long time.
I swam in the water warmed by the by Gulf Stream – that ocean current that started in the Gulf of Mexico and made its way along the East Coast of the United States.
Even though it was dark, I swam with my mates and played in the shallow water with the children. It was midnight by the time we had showered and slid under the covers.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.