With a "test of the ship's whistle" resounding throughout the San Diego Naval Shipyard, followed by the "ding-dong" of the ship's bell, the "U.S.S. New Orleans" is underway!

The pier is crowded with the loved ones of the sailors and Marines who man the rails. The barges "Mr. Don" and "Mr. Mike" tow the "New Orleans" gracefully into the bay as the ship's crew waves and shouts last farewells to the spectators along the dock. A lone bagpipe player in a green kilt plays his klaxon-like instrument from the platform upon which the Admiral overlooks the whole scene. From the speakers of our own vessel, the song, "I'm Proud to be an American" by Lee Greenwood, plays loud enough for all to hear. A small white blimp with red trim flies in a circular pattern overhead and displays a message which reads:

"U.S Troops Abroad, We ❤️ You! The City of San Diego"

Once the barges have detached from our hull, we are yet pursued by various helicopters with news cameras. Along our wake, several privately-owned yachts and small boats are flitting about and playfully racing alongside our ship. Crews of these small water craft wave and shout words of encouragement (such as the captain of "'Tis Nice", who yells "Go kick some butt...!"). From the port side of our ship, a mobile firefighting platform sprays its water cannons skyward...the arch of its water columns spray approximately sixty feet high, both fore and aft, and resembles quite an impressive fountain.

As we are about to sail beneath the Coronado Bridge, with North Island to our port side and San Diego to our starboard, a crowd gathered at Seapoint Park waves and cheers.

All too soon, the city fades over the horizon. The spectacular send-off is behind us, but the touching sentiment has effected all of the crew and none of us could ever forget it.

Having sailed north (near Del Mar, at Camp Pendleton), we meet more ships sailing south from Long Beach. Our flotilla will now number thirteen (hopefully, not an ill omen of things to come). Together, our fleet sails westward to buffer "Operation Desert Shield" in the Persian Gulf. Knowingly, we gird ourselves for the war which is sure to follow.

During "Taps" and the evening prayer, a common feeling of fraternity bonds each Marine on board. Each man is certainly contemplating his own mortality as one of our own addresses the crew from the ships public address system (or "1-MC"). He states that we are making history as we take a stand against the madman, Saddam Hussein, for freedom and for our friends, the Kuwaitis. He thanks the Navy side of the house for welcoming us aboard so openly, encourages the "blue-green team" (Navy-Marine team) to work together, affirms that he is "proud to be an American" as the song boasted earlier, and intones us to "kick some butt" as did another proud American on this day. Chaplain Keane then gives God's blessings.

Shouts of "Oo-Rah!" cut through what could otherwise be a grim atmosphere. We are all confident and morale is high. We have the right mindset to do the right job and we are sailing off, into the night, to do just that!

Semper Fi!