By Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Donnie W. Ryan
The distinctive silhouette of an amphibious assault ship on the horizon can strike fear into the heart of the enemy or renew hope for people in need during a humanitarian crisis. For 34 years, the mighty amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5) filled both roles, serving as both a weapon of war and a symbol of peace.
But the sounds of “reveille, reveille” and “commence ship’s work” will probably never be heard through the now empty passageways of the deserted vessel. In an almost eerie quietness throughout the ship, the only thing left inside the bulkheads are memories of the Sailors and Marines who proudly served aboard the Iron Nickel.
Tomorrow hundreds of plankowners, former crew members, and a few Marines will join the ship’s crew at Naval Base San Diego to say goodbye to one of the most famous ships in the Navy’s Pacific Fleet. The flag will be hauled down, the watch secured, and the crew ceremoniously disembarked for the final time.
During her almost 35 years of service, Peleliu was homeported on the California coast in both Long Beach and San Diego, as thousands of Sailors and Marines called the ship home. Capable of launching a coordinated air and sea attack from one platform, Peleliu has conducted 17 deployments, 178,051 flight operations, served 57,983 personnel, and steamed approximately 1,011,946 nautical miles since being commissioned May 3, 1980 in Pascagoula, Miss.
The ship’s maiden deployment took place in 1982, with follow-on deployments almost every two years thereafter. While on a Western Pacific deployment in 1990, the crew rescued 155 refugees from Vietnam who were crammed into a small boat. The story of how the gray silhouette of the mighty Peleliu appeared on the horizon to rescue the group just in time lives on in the hearts of a group of grateful individuals.
Phuong Minh T. Nguyen, who was a young child in the boat, remembers the story and has made it her job to make sure no one ever forgets how the crew rescued the refugees and took them to safety.
“On the seventh day we saw black dots on the horizon, and the dots kept getting bigger,” said Nguyen. “They were big American Navy ships and they were coming to rescue us. We love the Sailors of USS Peleliu because they rescued us.”
Peleliu took on another humanitarian mission during the summer of 2007 as the platform for Pacific Partnership. Throughout the four-month deployment, Peleliu hosted both military and civilian personnel who provided medical and dental care, as well as education and preventative medicine to more than 31,600 people in the Philippines, Vietnam, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Following the Pacific Partnership deployment, Peleliu deployed in 2008 to support maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operations. Three months into the deployment, the ship made headline news when it responded to a distress call from the M/V Gem of Kilakarai off the coast of Somalia, reporting that it was under attack from armed pirates.
Rear Adm. Marcus A. Hitchcock, who commanded Peleliu during the 2008 deployment, said he remembers the attack on the civilian merchant ship and how Peleliu’s Sailors and Marines sprang into action in order to help prevent the pirates from taking control of the vessel.
“We were conducting routine operations that morning and then suddenly there was a commercial container vessel putting out a mayday call,” said Hitchcock. “The ship was electrified and we launched three helicopters within minutes.”
A show of force from the Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and the sight of the mighty Peleliu’s silhouette on the horizon must have struck fear into the pirates as they quickly fled the scene.
The Gem of Kilakarai did report one grenade landed on the ship’s bridge wing during the attack but failed to detonate. Explosive ordnance personnel from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit were dispatched to defuse the unexploded grenade.
“The ship was doing a good job at evasive maneuvers but the pirates were determined to take the ship,” said Hitchcock. “Our actions absolutely prevented that act of piracy from taking place.”
On a personal note, Hitchcock said he remembers how much fun it was to set up a swim call for Peleliu Sailors and Marines in the Red Sea and make a port visit to Aqaba, Jordan during the 2008 deployment. Force protection conditions didn’t allow for a lot of liberty in the port, but the ship’s supply department worked with local merchants to create a tent city on the beach to entertain the crew during the port visit.
During that deployment, the officers and crew also made an impressive effort to earn surface warfare officer, enlisted surface warfare, and enlisted air warfare pins during the deployment. As a result, the ship was flying all three pennants as it returned home to Naval Base San Diego on Nov. 4, 2008, with hundreds of friends and family onboard for a Tiger Cruise.
“I was always very impressed with the crew’s ability to achieve the mission,” said Hitchcock while thinking back on his 18-month tour as commanding officer. “When I think of the Iron Nickel I think about the true grit of the crew. My time onboard was filled with a lot of great memories.”
The 2008 deployment was not the last for the mighty Peleliu as it deployed again in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Even with new Sailors and Marines joining the team each time, the ship developed a reputation of doing whatever it took to safely accomplish the mission. From delivering relief supplies to Pakistan during massive flooding, to landing Marines on the beach, the blue/green team exceled during every mission.
After the decommissioning process is complete, Peleliu will be towed from San Diego to Pearl Harbor to join the Navy’s reserve fleet. There, the gray silhouette of the last of its class amphibious assault ship will take its place alongside its sister ship and first in class, the ex-USS Tarawa (LHA 1).
“Pax per Potens” and the stories of the mighty Peleliu will live on in the hearts and minds of the former crew members for many more years to come.
As you are all aware, this week 36 of our shipmates’ names and addresses were posted on a website claiming to be friendly to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cause. While Department of Defense (DoD) and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) have not found evidence of operational planning or an imminent threat, there is little doubt that this gesture has caused concern and anxiety specifically for those on the list, their families and shipmates and more generally to the force. To inform conversations with Sailors and their families, I want to address some of the most common concerns we’re hearing across the Fleet.
This incident is a reminder of the importance we individually have to place on our personal safety and operations security. The guidance shared with Sailors in their sustained and cyclic training remains valid… stay aware, stay vigilant and be prudent about the information you share. Standing guidance for our web pages and command social media accounts remain valid as well—there is not a need to make a change. Ongoing intelligence and law enforcement assessments continue to reinforce that sharing information smartly and with due caution remains safe—this includes dealings with vetted U.S. and international media. If anything changes or new intelligence becomes available, we will pass that information via the appropriate channels.
We serve in the most dynamic and powerful Navy on earth, made possible by our Sailors’ efforts and the support of their families. Taking the time to discuss this issue, to place it in the appropriate context, will help ease anxiety and focus responsive effort on productive, appropriate and necessary measures. This approach serves our Sailors and their families best.
Released by Vice Adm. S. H. Swift, Director, Navy Staff.
(Image via USAA Magazine)
The staff of Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SURFPAC) gathered today to pay tribute to generations of women and their invaluable commitment to the military during Women’s History Month.
This year’s national theme, “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives,” was interpreted by a volunteer SURFPAC committee who acted out narratives of the female experience.
Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, Commander of Naval Surface Forces, shared his experiences of being part of the third graduating class to commission female officers at the United States Naval Academy. One of his classmates was Adm. Michelle Howard, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, who currently holds the second-highest rank of commissioned officers.
Today Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens announced that guided-missile destroyer DDG 119 will be named for the first MCPON, Delbert D. Black.
The late Master Chief Gunner’s Mate Delbert Black died 15 years ago after serving in three wars.
A legendary figure among Chief Petty Officers, Black established the role of MCPON, the Navy’s top enlisted leader. Black used his position to give enlisted Sailors more opportunities and a bigger role in decision-making.
The ship’s sponsor will be Black’s wife, Ima, a WWII veteran of the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). The ship will be built in Pascagoula, Miss.
Today, the staff of Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet gathered together to observe Black History Month with a ceremony and remarks from special guests. The ceremony emphasized this year’s nationwide Black History Month theme of “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.”
Capt. Paul Hogue, Commander of Destroyer Squadron 23, served as the keynote speaker for the event. A special presentation was made by former Marines who attended basic training at the historic Camp Montford Point, located in North Carolina.
Retired Marine Corps First Sgt. Joe Earl Jackson and retired Gunnery Sgt. J. T. Ingle, both Camp Montford Point alumni, shared their stories of military life during segregation with those who attended the ceremony.
Today, there are more than 120,000 African American active duty, reservists and civilians in the Navy Total Force.
Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SURFPAC) welcomed eight Sailors to San Diego for its annual Sea and Shore Sailor of the Year week. The Sailor of the Year program recognizes individuals who best represent each command while upholding the highest traditions of the U.S. Navy. Related events honor each of the finalists for their contributions to their commands and local communities while evaluating their military bearing, professional performance and leadership skills. This week the finalists are competing for the title of Sailor of the Year, to be announced Feb. 27.
By MC1(SW/AW) Joseph M. Buliavac, USS San Diego Public Affairs
As USS San Diego (LPD 22) sits off the coast of Camp Pendleton offloading Marines and their equipment today, the crew is getting excited about tomorrow’s homecoming. Deployment homecomings are one of the most anticipated events for Sailors, Marines and their families. In the case of San Diego it’s even more important and monumental, because the ship is returning from her 26,000-nautical-mile maiden deployment.
The deployment included some noteworthy events and milestones. The ship responded to a Pacific Fleet humanitarian assistance request to recover three National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sponsored scientists from the Pearl and Hermes Atoll, a remote island in the Pacific Ocean, threatened by Hurricane Iselle. Two small boats containing Navy and Marine Corps recovery teams transited the challenging seas for six nautical miles before reaching the opening to the island chain where the three NOAA scientists awaited help. At only 12 feet above sea level at the highest point, the small islet was in danger of being flooded by the hurricane storm surge.
San Diego’s Engineering Department was able to conduct any and all major maintenance and repair evolutions while at sea, ensuring the ship’s mission and operational tempo was uninterrupted. This resulted in a 26-day, over 13,000nm, full-power run from the northern Red Sea to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii—a feat never before accomplished by a San Antonio-class LPD.
San Diego pushed Information Dominance Warfare by aligning the ship’s Information Dominance Corps ratings. The crew’s intelligence, electronic warfare, cryptologic, and communications teams innovated by re-scoping their mission sets and operated as an Information Dominance Operations Cell (IDOC). This unique alignment concept resulted in San Diego establishing benchmarks with record-breaking results leading to the ship being recognized as the U.S. 7th Fleet Cryptologic Ship of the Quarter, 4th quarter 2014.
Having spent 200 out of a 216-day deployment out to sea, San Diego did manage to make a few port calls. The crew enjoyed some well deserved time off in Aqaba, Jordan; Hong Kong, and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During some of these visits they took part in a variety of community relations activities. These events included spending time with underprivileged children in Hong Kong, a friendly soccer match with a Royal Jordanian Navy team, and a familiarization visit to a mosque.
Of course, no deployment would be complete without Sailors receiving recognition for their hard work. Five officers earned their Surface Warfare Officer qualification; three earned the Command Duty Officer qualification; and 14 officers, one Senior Chief Petty Officer and one Chief Petty Officer completed the Officer of the Deck qualification. Four officers were also promoted to the next rank, while 204 Sailors were awarded the Enlisted Surface Warfare qualification, and 57 enlisted Sailors were advanced to the next pay grade.
Over the last seven months, USS San Diego has:
• completed five full vehicle and equipment offloads in five countries,
• received 4.1 million gallons of fuel,
• produced 5 million gallons of water,
• conducted 40,000 man-hours in repairs,
• completed a full vehicle & equipment wash down in three days vice the normal seven,
• flew 1821.2 flight hours,
• completed 2,593 passenger movements,
• moved 12,146,725 lbs. of cargo,
• took on 908 tons of food,
• took on 507 tons in stores, parts and supplies,
• received 65 tons of mail,
• completed 20 Replenishments at Sea, and
• conducted 37 well deck operations.
The crew has done the work and now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. With all of their hard work and accomplishments, San Diego’s maiden deployment is—without a doubt—one the crew and the city she was named after can be proud of!