General, Military, United States, Virginia

USS Arlington LPD 24

This past weekend, Rob and I took a day trip to Norfolk, VA for a very special military ceremony. The US Navy commissioned the USS Arlington on Saturday, April 6th. The USS Arlington is one of three namesake ships to commemorate the victims and heroes of 9/11. The USS New York was commissioned in 2009 and the USS Somerset is scheduled to be commissioned next year. The USS Arlington LPD 24 (landing platform/dock) will transport troops into war zones around the world and will be a constant reminder that the American spirit cannot be broken.


The ship’s name plate was made out of steel recovered from the Pentagon after the attack (top left picture below).


Members of the Arlington County Fire Department, Arlington County Police Department, and families of the victims that died at the Pentagon were invited to attend the ceremony. Rob was a first responder at the Pentagon on 9/11, so it was very special for us to attend such a meaningful ceremony honoring all of the heroes and victims. Members of the ACFD attended the event looking sharp!


The Commissioning Ceremony

The commissioning of a naval ship is a time honored tradition hundreds of years old. The ceremony marks the transition of the ship into active duty. The national anthem was played and then a representative read the commissioning directive. The American flag and commissioning pennant were then raised and the ship officially became a member of our naval fleet. The commissioning pennant is the very thin one at the top (center) of the picture below.


And seen again in the bottom right of the picture below (look closely, it’s as thin as the ropes that raise it!).


The prospective commanding officer read his orders, officially assumed command, and set the first watch. Then the ship’s sponsor (Joyce Rumsfeld) gave the first order: “Man our ship and bring her to life!”

At that point the crew rushed on board the ship and lined up along the railings.



The ship’s engines were turned on and they sounded the mighty horn!


Then the crew saluted as the colors were retired.



The Tour

After the ceremony concluded, we were allowed to tour certain parts of the ship.


Rob in control of the bridge.


Four types of aircraft on the deck.


Although we didn’t get to see it, the ship has a “tribute room” to honor the 184 people killed at the Pentagon as well as the emergency personnel that responded to the attack.

I’m sure many of you are wondering if they smashed a bottle of champagne on the ship. No, wrong ceremony. But that did in fact happen at a different ceremony! The christening took place in March of 2011 and Joyce Rumsfeld had the honor of smashing the champagne bottle.

Colorado, Destinations

Colorado Day 4 – Oktoberfest & Independence Day all in one day

On Sunday morning we woke up feeling refreshed after our long day in Colorado Springs.  We all went out for a nice breakfast and later that morning we shuttled to the neighboring ski town for Oktoberfest.  Beaver Creek Resort has a Bavarian feel to it so it was a great location to host such a festival.  I am assuming they do it every year, but I am not sure.  Either way, Rob and I were both looking forward to some good German Bier and Bratwurst.  Rob was especially looking forward to the Bratwurst part since he had ordered Bratwurst for lunch in Colorado Springs the day before and they literally served him a hot dog!  He was not pleased…but hopefully the delicious Bratwurst we had at Oktoberfest made him forget all about the hot dog incident.  We had a good time enjoying the German music, food and beer, but we couldn’t stay too long.  We had to get back on the road towards Denver for plans we made with John and Leslie.

Once we made it back to John and Leslie’s house, we all went to visit John’s father, Frank.  It was really great to meet him and I know Rob was really glad to visit with him as well.  Frank told us a lot of stories about himself and Rob’s grandfather, Ned, from when they were kids and very close friends.  He had a lot of good stories to share and I am sure if we had more time, he would have loved to share more of them.  I know Rob really enjoyed hearing stories about his grandfather that he had never heard before.  We had a nice visit with Frank and then John and Leslie took us to a fabulous restaurant for dinner.  For fun, let’s call it Mimi’s Café (sorry, inside joke).

After dinner, we went back to John and Leslie’s house and we planned to just relax and then go to bed early since we had to wake up very early the following day to catch our flight.  While we were chatting inside we heard fireworks starting to go off outside.  The town of Lone Tree had to cancel their 4th of July fireworks display that year because the weather conditions were far too dry.  So they rescheduled for Labor Day weekend.  We all walked outside to the front yard where we had a really great view of the fireworks.  This worked out perfectly for me since I didn’t get to see 4th of July fireworks at home this year.  Our power had just come back on after being out for close to a week, so I spent the 4th of July cleaning out my fridge and freezer and cleaning the house.  Good times!  For a small suburban town, Lone Tree put on one hell of a good fireworks display!  And it was a nice finale for our Colorado trip.

Colorado, Destinations

Colorado Day 3 – Colorado Springs

On Saturday morning we had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. because we wanted to head south to Colorado Springs for the Colorado Balloon Classic.  This annual hot air balloon show has become the largest and longest running hot air balloon festival in Colorado.  It is held every year in Colorado Springs over Labor Day weekend and since the timing of our visit was perfect, I didn’t want to miss it.  The balloons start to take flight right around sunrise, but it was definitely worth waking up at that wretched hour because it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.  We arrived at Memorial Park just as the very first balloon was being inflated, but most of the other balloons weren’t even set up yet.  This gave us time to find a breakfast vendor and some much-needed coffee.  By the time we were finished with our breakfast burritos, the field of balloons were starting to go up.

As they each started to take flight, they passed over a lake within the park and some of the pilots attempted a touch-and-go off the water.  I definitely wasn’t expecting to see that!

There was a veterans’ memorial in the park, so we decided to check that out while we were there.  It was actually quite impressive with a lot of different smaller memorials for specific services and units surrounding this center memorial for all veterans.

It was really amazing how many hot air balloons were at this festival.  We had to have seen at least 100 of them and there were still more setting up as we were leaving.  I could have easily stayed for hours to continue watching them, but we were trying to squeeze a lot into our day, so we had to leave before it was over.  On our way out of the park we saw the Fire Fighters’ Memorial, so of course, we had to check that out too.

Our next stop in Colorado Springs was the Garden of the Gods.  The park is filled with beautiful red rock formations and it is definitely worth checking out if you are ever in Colorado Springs.

The rock formation below is called the Kissing Camels.

The next rock formation was particularly amusing to Rob and I.  It didn’t have an official name like the one above, but we think it looks like a cartoon Mt. Rushmore because it reminded us of the presidential bobble heads that run around the field at the Nationals games.  Can you see it?

There were rock climbers throughout the park.  Notice the guy sitting at the highest peak in the picture below.

There were also climbers in costume that offered some entertainment value.  Take note of the princess and the bee!

Just when we thought all the awesomeness was over…we found these final great rock formations on our way out of the park.

The final thing on our Colorado Springs agenda was to check out Pikes Peak.  Apparently, Pikes Peak is the most visited mountain in North America.  It was ok, I guess, but it was really hard to compete with what we had already seen that morning.  And it might have been a better experience if the drive up there wasn’t so terrifying!  It is a 19 mile drive to the summit on one of the windiest roads I have ever been on.  That, in and of itself, is not terrifying.  But when it is coupled with cliffs that start right at the edge of the road with NO guardrails….that makes for a very stressful 1 hour drive to the top of the mountain.  Yes, that’s right….it takes at least an hour to drive the 19 miles up the mountain.

After finally arriving at the top, I think Rob and I were both stressed out.  It definitely felt good to get out of the car at that point.  We were just over 14,000 feet and the temperature was much colder.  This was the 2nd highest altitude I had ever been at (the highest was during our hike of the Inca Trail where we were just under 15,000 feet).  The view was pretty cool, but I think they should use that $12 per person entrance fee to install some more guardrails.  Just a thought…


I was starting to feel slightly light-headed from the elevation, and we were both ready to head back down the mountain.  We assumed that driving down the mountain was going to be much easier than our drive up…but, we were wrong.  After 6 miles, each vehicle gets stopped for a brake check.  If you aren’t driving in low gear your brakes become too hot from excessive use, so they have a park ranger there to check the temperature of your brakes.  Anything under 300 degrees and you are free to go on your way.  Anything higher and you need to pull over and let your engine and brakes cool down for about 15 minutes.  Our brakes registered at an impressive 435 degrees….FAIL!

After our mandatory cool down period, we safely made it off the mountain and it was time to leave Colorado Springs and head west to ski country.  Rob’s cousin Becky and her family were staying at a ski resort in Avon and she invited us to join them.  We drove through all of the beautiful ski towns…Breckenridge, Vail, etc. and we finally made it to Avon.  Rob and I were both pretty spent after such a long day and so much driving, so we just had a relaxing evening with Becky and her family.  But we were looking forward to seeing a bit more of the area the following day.



Colorado, Destinations

Colorado Day 2 – Rocky Mt. National Park

We woke up on Friday morning and had a delicious breakfast with John and Leslie.  After breakfast, I was ready to put some miles on our rental car and start exploring Colorado, but Rob was anxious to try out a CrossFit workout with his cousin Becky.  Did I mention that Becky is a bad-ass Level 2 CrossFit instructor?  Probably not…but she is.  So, while Rob was getting his butt smoked by Becky, I enjoyed a relaxing morning with John and Leslie.

Rob returned from his workout looking pretty exhausted (butt officially smoked!) and wanting to rest.  But there was no time for that because I had a different agenda.  The plan was to head north to Rocky Mountain National Park (about 2 hrs. away), check things out there and then head back to Denver to meet an old army buddy for dinner.  We were getting a late start to the day, so we needed to get on the road pronto.  Somehow Rob mustered up the energy to get showered and we hit the road.

About 2 hrs. later we got to Estes Park, which is a beautiful town right outside Rocky Mountain National Park.  We stopped at a scenic overlook and we became so preoccupied with the wildlife there that we didn’t get a picture of the Rocky Mountains in the background! (That last part isn’t exactly true.  The real reason we didn’t get a photo of the mountains is because of some other tourists that wouldn’t get out of our shot and I got tired of waiting for them to leave.)  The first thing we saw as soon as we pulled into the overlook was this beautiful woodpecker.

There were actually quite a few of these guys flying around and I don’t think I had ever actually seen a woodpecker before.  I had only ever heard them in the distance.  Now that I think about it, I am not even positive that this is a woodpecker, but I am just going to go with it and continue to assume that it is.

The next thing that we noticed were these cute little chipmunks that were everywhere!!  Clearly they were used to being fed by humans because they had no fear of getting up close and personal.

There were also several wild turkeys there as well.

Satisfied with our wildlife pictures, we left the scenic overlook (myself slightly annoyed for not getting the mountains overlook photo) and headed into Estes Park.  We stopped at the Visitors’ Center and a very helpful woman suggested the best route for a Rocky Mountain National Park visit based on our time constraints.  In order to drive through the entire park, you would need to have 5-6 hours.  Since we got a late start, we clearly didn’t have that much time to work with (and Rob wasn’t really interested in doing that much driving to begin with).  The woman assured us that we would still be quite pleased with our visit of the park even though we didn’t have time to see it all.  She highlighted all of the must-see overlook spots on our route and then we were on our way.  Estes Park was such a beautiful little town and I really wish that we would have had more time to stroll around, but we needed to get straight into the park if we were going to make it back to Denver in time for dinner.

We entered the park through the south entrance and paid the $20 fee (worth it).  Rob didn’t get to enjoy the scenery quite as much as I did since he had to concentrate on the driving.  The roads are extremely windy and you can’t exactly stop in the middle of the road to take in the view.  But we definitely made use of all the available overlook areas so that we could park and both enjoy the view.  Our first stop was called Many Parks Curve at 9,640 feet.  Of course Rob had to do a bit of climbing of his own, so I guess his elevation was slightly higher than that!

Our next stop was called Rainbow Curve at 10,829 feet.  There were lots of chipmunks at this stop as well, but we had already gotten our fill of chipmunk photos.

The next stop was Forest Canyon Overlook, where we saw some elk off in the distance!

Next we stopped on Trail Ridge Road, just over 12,000 feet.  This overlook spot was supposed to be the best view of the Continental Divide.  We attempted to do some hiking at this stop, but we got caught in the rain.

Our last stop was Gore Range Overlook and then it was time to turn around and head back.

We chatted with some other tourists that saw several bighorn sheep along the way.  I was disappointed that we somehow missed that, but I was still happy we got to see so many elk along the way.  If you ever plan to visit, you could easily spend an entire day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I wouldn’t mind exploring the whole park, but I feel that we got a good taste of it during our express excursion.  Rob safely navigated us out of the park and then we were headed into Denver.

We met my old army buddy, Derek, at a microbrewery in Denver.  Derek and I were both MP’s stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington and it had been about 11 years since I had seen him.  Derek met Rob for the first time that night and Rob and I got to meet Derek’s daughter, Bailee, for the first time as well.  It was really nice to catch up with him and Rob was pleasantly surprised at how well I hit it off with Derek’s daughter (seeing as I generally don’t care for the little ones).  Aside from this one night out to dinner in Denver, Rob and I really didn’t make it back into the city to check things out.  I am sure there are plenty of things to do there, but we just didn’t have enough time to check them out.

After dinner we headed back to John and Leslie’s house and had to call it an early night because we planned to get up at an obscene hour the following morning (actually, still night time if you ask me!).

Colorado, Destinations

Colorado Day 1 – Meeting the Relatives

Rob and I recently traveled to Colorado to visit some distant relatives of his that I had never met before.  I was excited to meet his family and I was also excited to explore Colorado since I had never been there before.  We stayed with John and his wife, Leslie, who they live just south of Denver.  John is 2nd cousins with Rob’s mother, Nena, so I believe that makes John, Rob’s second cousin once-removed?  The terminology for distant relatives can be a bit confusing to me, but I think I finally got it down.  Regardless, they are family.

We arrived at John and Leslie’s house at about 5:00 and we were just in time for a great BBQ and birthday celebration.  John and Leslie’s two daughters, Carrie & Becky (Rob’s 3rd cousins?) and the accompanying four grandchildren, as well as close family friends, Dan & Peggy, all came out to meet us, as well as celebrate Carrie’s birthday.  They are an incredible family…the kind of people that make you feel warm and welcome as soon as you meet them.  After only being there for an hour, I felt like I had known them for years.  The weather was fabulous, so we enjoyed ourselves outside on the back patio with lively conversation and delicious food.  We stayed out there for hours eating, drinking, and chatting and it was a great way to relax and get settled in after our flight.  Due to the time change, Rob and I were ready to go to bed pretty early, so we called it a night so that we could energize ourselves to start exploring Colorado the next morning.  All in all, it was a fabulous welcome reception with family in a new place.