Alone, but Never Lonely

By Cmdr. Karsten Berg
Royal Norwegian Navy Commander

What’s it like to be the single representative for your country in Pacific Warfighting Center (PWC) and Pearl Harbor?

Norwegian's Blog Photo

Royal Norwegian Navy Commander Karsten Berg after his missing luggage arrived and he could finally wear his uniform.

When I arrived in Pearl Harbor, my luggage didn’t. So my first evening at Hale Alii was spent in the clothes I had travelled 8,282 miles in. Outside building 1315, on the deck, were my neighbours and also colleagues for the next 18 days. Upon hearing about the unlucky Norwegian who had lost his luggage, they immediately offered food and drinks, were sympathetic to my situation, and asked if I needed anything. Those two first hours on base turned out to be representative to my stay.

Although Norway is participating with a ship for the first time, I only spent a few hours aboard HNoMS Fritdjof Nansen (F 310) before she got underway, and I was left as the only Norwegian participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) at the Pacific Warfighting Center. I was invited to a fantastic barbecue on the 4th of July, and watched the fireworks with everyone, feeling truly welcome.

I turned up to work at the PWC the next day and was welcomed once more. This time I felt strangely comfortable even though it was a little embarrassing to be out of uniform, as my luggage still had not arrived. But it dawned on me that I was amongst people who had been my colleagues for more than 20 years, even though we’d never met before. We were all sailors. After a quick introduction, the conversation soon turned to how we would fulfill our task as Combined Forces Maritime Component Commander, Combined Task Force 170 Anchor Desk watchstanders, and it was amazing how quickly we agreed on this. Everyone spoke the same language, a language filled with acronyms and abbreviations that will make an outsider’s head spin (and ours as well some of the time).

24/7, the Maritime Operations Center is filled with a strange buzz; a buzz that sometimes requires the Battle Watch Captain to quieten down the eager sailors, marines and soldiers, but an effective and professional buzz nonetheless. It is also a friendly one.  One hour into our first watch, we grasped each other’s sense of humour, a humour that is quite common in navies around the world. Although the job always comes first, there is always time for a subtle joke, and it keeps you awake through the night while somewhat helping the fact that you, like everyone else, is far away from home, and far away from those who live there.

 

HNoMS Fritdjof Nansen (F 310)

HNoMS Fritdjof Nansen (F 310)

RIMPAC as an exercise is also special in a purely professional way. Having a background in warfare and operations, RIMPAC is probably the most exciting exercise I could take part in. Nowhere else will you work alongside people from so many nationalities, observe ships take part in maneuvers this large, or see so many hours of live fire, aircraft flying and ships refuelling in the open ocean. Managing the sheer volume of the exercise is something to exercise in itself, and the organisation and work behind the scenes is impressive to watch and experience. Coming from a small country, I could never see something this large at home, and it is interesting to see command and control executed to the letter according to the tactical manuals I first read more than two decades ago when starting my career in the Norwegian Navy.

I hope that the reason behind my choice of heading is becoming clear: we are the same. I may have been the only Norwegian, but that has been my only unique quality here.

I have not met a single person, regardless of service, rank or nationality, who wasn’t forthcoming, courteous and professional.

Although it is a little sad to leave so many newfound friends, I’m certain no one will blame me for looking forward to being with my family again.

I wish you all fair winds and following seas. Mahalo!