January 21, 2009
Navy destroyers from Hawaii deploy to west Pacific, Middle East
1 ship escorting strike group while 2 others increase presence in region
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
PEARL HARBOR – Three Hawai’i-based destroyers and more than 1,000 sailors set sail for the western Pacific yesterday – one ship as an escort for a strike group headed to the Middle East and the other two as part of a policy change for U.S. Pacific Fleet sending Hawai’i ships west instead of to Southern California for training.
The “Mid-Pacific Surface Combatant Operational Employment” policy takes advantage of Hawai’i’s forward location to combine training and a real-world presence in the western Pacific, the Navy said.
The Pearl Harbor destroyer Chung-Hoon is heading west with the San Diego-based USS Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group. The aircraft carrier-like Boxer, which has helicopters and Harrier jump jets, spent several days in Hawai’i for sonar and land-based training at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island.
The Boxer strike group is headed to the Middle East. The destroyers Hopper and Paul Hamilton, meanwhile, left Hawai’i for the “operational employment” training, the Navy said.
“It’s a more efficient use of time. It ends up being less time away from home for training purposes,” said Capt. William A. Kearns, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 31. “They can do training and do deployed missions – operate with allied navies, (and) do port visits out in the western Pacific during the time that they would have in the past operated in Southern California.”
The operational employment policy was put in place by U.S. Pacific Fleet in May 2008, officials said. Destroyers have a crew of about 350. The USS Chafee, another destroyer based at Pearl Harbor, is scheduled to deploy in the coming weeks.
The Hopper is expected to be out about 3 1/2 months. The relatively short deployment – at least by military standards – didn’t provide encouragement for Vicky Andries, who was on Bravo pier waving goodbye to her husband, 33-year-old sonar technician Matthew Andries.
Vicky Andries is 6 1/2-months pregnant, meaning Matthew will miss the birth of their first child. She tried to hold back the tears yesterday behind black-framed sunglasses.
The Hopper will link up with the George Washington or John C. Stennis aircraft carrier strike groups in the western Pacific and will visit Okinawa, officials said. The Hopper’s training deployment is about half the six months carrier strike groups spend at sea if they sail to the Middle East.
Culinary specialist Jeff Norman, 22, yesterday said it doesn’t make much difference to him where the destroyer has duty.
“When I go out I’m on a big ship that nobody’s going to mess with, so it doesn’t matter either way if I’m in the Persian Gulf or western Pacific,” he said.