Our role in Operation Iraqi Freedom was behind us; the crew and officers of the USS Porter (DDG-78) were ready for a break. We had just been ordered to join NATO's Standing Naval Forces Mediterranean as part of a multinational peacekeeping force. We were ecstatic, especially after spending 61 continuous days at sea without a real liberty port.
On arriving in Cartagena, Spain, some of the Porter's sailors were invited to a force reception, where we mingled with NATO sailors of all ranks under a broad canvas tent on the fantail of the USS Hawes (FFG-53). Nearby, I saw crewmen of a German U-boat conversing with sailors from a British frigate. In the background, Turkish and Greek ships were moored outboard of each other. I knew the Porter's NATO experience would be unlike any other I had had in my 15-year Navy career, and I was proud to be representing my country and the U.S. Navy.