Oman - April 1993
Well it’s the third of April and I am in sunny and very hot Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. The Sultan’s yacht, a small cruise liner, is across the pier from us, but he hasn’t dropped by yet.
Well it sure has been interesting since we left Bahrain. We proceeded through the Straits of Hormuz again, this time during the daylight. It’s pretty cool. The Oman/UAE side has these towering cliffs and rock like islands. We passed really close to come Iranian islands. It’s sort of freaky when you go by them and can look through your binoculars and see cars and people on the island. I mean, that’s Iran, where they hate Americans and burn our flag in effigy, but it doesn’t look much different from the coast than any other country.
The whole Straits of Hormuz thing is sort of funny. Part of the traffic scheme goes through Omani and Iranian territorial waters. And depending on where you are in the straits, you have different responses when challenged by Omani or Iranian warships and places. The whole political scene is very different from what you might imagine. Everyone is painfully polite and courteous on the radio circuits. I don’t know when the last hostile incident was between a US ship and an Iranian ship, but with this whole “let’s be neighbors” attitude, their warships and aircraft can get closer that they used to. And as long as they are not doing anything aggressively hostile then they can get very close. Of course, this makes us very edgy because you never know when one of them will trip the line and do something really stupid aka Stark incident.
The other thing is that there is a severe smuggling problem between Iran and the UAE. Here’s the picture, it’s 2200 at night with a semi-decent moon. I’m looking out the bridge window and I see something moving on the water. We have a night vision scope mounted on our mast and it focuses on the cigarette type boat as it crosses my bow at maybe three thousand yards. It’s too small to get on radar and then it approaches another boat. The people inside throw stuff from one boat to another, then they separate and go speeding off into the night with no lights on. Now if you didn’t know about this and you see a small boat heading your way in the missile of the Straits with no lights on, wouldn’t you get a little paranoid?
On the 27th we anchored off the coast of Oman at their Naval Base at Wudam. Well all of the senior officers took off for a conference and since it was Sunday I thought I would get some sleep. Big negative. The CHENG is the CDO and he gets me up to organize putting the ship’s boats in the water and do some junior officer training. And I wasn’t even on duty. Well I did it and then he keeps coming up with more things for me to do. I’m NOT on DUTY damn it! So when they put down liberty, I jump on the first boat. Now the rules. You can’t leave the base, you can’t take pictures and there’s absolutely no alcohol. Oman is a conservative Islamic nation so we need to be careful. The base is really cool and Kevin and I go hit the pool. It’s Olympic sized and very nice. We dove off the board and then I swam some laps. We had to be back onboard by 1700 but by then the weather turned rough and so they secured the small boats. So all of the people on liberty and the official party got a ride on their LCU’s (Landing Craft Units) that are used to land tanks and things. The other US ship with us was the Dewert, a Frigate. Well when the LCU went alongside it to drop off some people, the two ships went crunch. It just slightly dented the LCU, but it broke a pipe on the Dewert. The Captain of the LCU was actually a British officer. The Omani and Royal Navy exchange officers for training. So we spent the next three days doing exercises with the Omani Navy and with some ships from the UAE. Unfortunately we had the Commodore onboard.
Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 25 was supposed to be aboard the USS Truxton for this exercise, but they broke down so the Commodore decided to come with us. What a pain. He is only a Captain and junior to our Captain. He came onboard the night before and my Captain described him to me as “a balding, fat, crabby old man like me.” What a description and how true. He was not a nice gentleman. So we not only sweated because we were doing an exercise with a foreign navy, but also because we had the commodore onboard. He had his staff with him, so we have to move officers out of their racks. Thankfully not me, but I had an Ensign on a cot in my stateroom. Which made moving around my “huge” stateroom a real pain.
We pulled into Muscat Oman on the morning of April 1st. The surrounding countryside is made up of huge rocky hills. It’s a desert country, but very pretty. There were several ships at anchor outside the harbor quay walls. The entrance to the harbor is guarded by old forts from who knows when. It really is picturesque. As you pull in you see the forts, a huge minaret at one end of the town, the row of buildings, all painted white, but with that dusty stained look to them, that line the harbor. The city is not big, but then you learn that the city is broken up into sectors and this is just the harbor area. It was the first time I had ever been to place that was so different. So non-western. The harbor is small for being the capital of Oman. I don’t think they have another large port for commerce. This really is a desert country and I know they have to import a lot of their stuff. We shared the harbor with two other Navy ships. The HMS Coventry from Great Britain and the Admiral Tributz from Russia. Needless to say there was a great flap about not talking to the Russians and that we were not to go to their ships for tours, etc.
So it was funny when the Chief Engineer from the Soviet ship came over and invited the wardroom over to his ship for a tour and a “reception”. The word “vodka” was mentioned several times. Then we were at the Sheraton and the Operations Officer from the Soviet ship came over to where we were drinking and joined us in a round. It got ugly when all three ships starts standing up and singing their national anthems. I felt sorry for the guys on the Soviet ship as they don’t get paid hardly anything at all and the Middle East is not inexpensive. Several of their crew members came over to our pier to trade stuff and to get some hard currency.
We pulled into the pier at 1000. By the time everything got settled out the first day it was approximately 1230. The wardroom had gotten an admin suite at the Sheraton, so we went there and hung out by the pool. Like most Arabic countries, everything shuts down between 1130 and 1600 mainly because it’s too hot. All of the westerners are out by the pool and I got a nice sun burn. Later that afternoon we went to the souk, aka marketplace, near the harbor. The souk has several main streets and then there is a maze of alley ways with small stores selling everything from electronic goods, to children’s clothes, to souvenirs, and nick-knacks. I don’t know why, but I got fixated on buying a Khanjer, a traditional Omani dagger. I had dreams of finally snapping and going on a murder spree involving ritual killings of some members of my chain of command. Well I did the price comparison thing but I didn’t have enough rials on me to buy one the first day. One rial is approximately 2.6 dollars. Oman, like Bahrain, is really expensive. The whole marketplace reminded me of one of those old movies about the Middle East, hot and dusty, merchants yelling at the customers and each other. It’s amazing how the scents are overwhelming, the smell of frankincense, the dust in the air, and the crowds, and on top of it all the oppressive heat.
Now most people who know me, know about my acute sense of fashion and original style that screams how cool I really am. Well the clothing situation is just not good. When I left Hawaii I carefully planned out my wardrobe and what I was going to bring on the ship. Remember I am planning leave during the middle of the deployment I decided on a few clothing basics and then accessorized the best I could. So we are talking Hong Kong in February, Singapore in March, the Gulf in spring/summer, and Italy in June/July, shorts played a major part of my wardrobe. It was cool in Hong Kong so I got to wear my pants. Singapore was hot so it was shorts by day, and pants by night to go to the clubs. Well, in all of my planning, I failed to think about the customs of the Arabic countries. It is considered rude to wear shorts and by COMUSNAVCENT decree all military personnel will wear collared shirts. Well that second stipulation was not a problem. But this no shorts policy is crimping my style. I only brought two pairs of pants with me and stupid one here bought a computer in Hong Kong instead of clothes. I know that is a shock and it’s not like I can do laundry whenever I want to. So soon, try tomorrow, I am going malling. Rumor has it that they have malls here and then clothing is not that terribly expensive. But if the only thing they have are these white robes, I’ll pass. In Oman, the little “Welcome to Muscat” book encouraged us to buy the traditional dress robe, but that expats were not allowed to wear them in Oman. Gee, that’s a bit harsh. And who would want to wear one anyways. I mean, you are walking on roads that are barely paved (usually not) and the seasonal dust storms kick up every once in a while, and you are wearing a white sheet that is just not that flattering on anybody. And white? Please. It makes all of the people look dirty and the hygiene thing here leaves something to be desired. They sell perfume here dirt cheap, but the people don’t use it. At close quarters in a bar, stay upwind of the robed crowd.
The first night we want to the discotheque at the Sheraton. It was packed. But you had to be a guest of the hotel, or bring women with you, to get into the club. There were maybe three Arabic women there, and that’s probably a high figure. Several Filpinas and then the rest were Westerners, expats. But the Arabic guys were out in force. Plus half the crew from the Coventry including several female crew members. We crashed at the hotel and the next morning we went back because we were schedule for a tour. Which got cancelled. So we headed to the beach. The hot Middle Easter sun can get you burned in a heartbeat. Now the beach was okay, but the only people laying out or swimming were the Westerners. I’d be lying there and see groups of Omani men go by wearing their robes and holding hands. And that brings me to my next topic. Women, the lack therefo, and homosexuality in the Middle East.
Women, the fairer sex. Oman is a conservative Islamic country. I saw maybe ten Omani women, most of them in cars, as we went by in a cab. The women are just not out in public at all. The second day, after the beach, we went to the souk downtown. It wasn’t so impressive as the old market, but it was swamped with people, correction . . . men. The only women I saw ere Filipino maids doing shopping. I don’t think I saw any Arabic woman that whole afternoon we went shopping. I bought a T-shirt and some of their little caps. If you’ve ever seen the comic strip “Life in Hell”, then you have seen the little Fez type hats they wear. So a whole bunch of us junior officers got some and we are going to have “Life in Hell” parties on Fridays when we are underway. Anyways, back to the women. Not. The streets were jammed with guys. I had never seen such a dude fest. It was weird. When the Defense Attache came aboard for the in-brief, he said that homosexuality was outlawed according to Islamic law. However, he said that a year ago some Navy SEALS were propositioned in a bar. And after they turned the guy down, he moved on to some Marines who were not so restrained in their reaction. A fight ensued, and the Royal Omani Police came and arrested the first four westerners they saw. It is also customary for the men to hold hands. And that takes some getting used do. I mean, they treat their women like slaves and don’t let them go out in public, so you figure they have this intense male bonding thing. But I can’t deal with the holding hands. So back at the marketplace, all of these guys are just handing out. Kevin and I were joking. “Hey, next Friday after morning prayers, let’s get on our coolest robes and go hang out at the souk and hold hands. Not.” So funny story. We actually had one of our guys get propositioned at the bar. “I love you” the Arabic guy says, and our guy says: “We just met. I don’t even know you.” And then he left turned and walked away leaving the Arabic guy just confused. I was dying.
Now Oman is a country on the rise and had a modern type city, but no AT&T. The phone systems is antiquated plus is was expensive. The last day in port I had the duty. I never did get my Khanjer, and I was bummed. I’ll probably get on in Dubai or Abu Dhabii. We left and transited the Straits of Hormuz enroute to the northern Arabian Gulf for AAW picket. Playing chase with the Nimitz gets old quickly. After that we headed by to Bahrain arriving on the 9th. That’s all of my news except . . . . my departure date is still up in the air. Literally. Our last port is Dubai. Current policy is for transferring personnel to transfer at sea to the carrier and then COD flight to Bahrain. So after another Straits of Hormuz transit, I will be helo-ed off the Reeves and flown to the carrier. Then shot off the carrier to fly to Bahrain. I really don’t want to do that. I want to walk off the ship and see it sail into the distance. But no such luck. That puts my Italy plans in a holding pattern. I want to make reservations, but I don’t know when I am going to arrive. My intentions are to fly into Naples and out of Milan. We’ll see, but June and July are peak travel months and I don’t want to be sleeping in a car. Gotta go. If anything happens I’ll write, but I’m in Bahrain, so it may be a while.