It’s that time of year again when Lee Greenwood’s “God bless the USA,” is playing on the radio, the sweet smell of BBQ is in the air, and family and friends are gathering at the local park to watch the fireworks show in honor of our nation’s birthday.
As we celebrate our 240 years of independence, let us remember the true meaning of this holiday. When most Americans think of the 4th of July, “America,” “freedom,” and “independence” are three words that typically come to mind. They represent our power, strength, and fortitude, so it’s no surprise that there are some U.S. Navy ships bearing these names.
In May 1777, USS America a 74-gun man-of-war ship was gifted to France in appreciation of their partnership with the new nation the United States of America. The current USS America (LHA 6) is the fourth ship to be named after our country. She is an amphibious assault ship that provides forward presence and power projection supporting Marines and their aviation assets as part of an Expeditionary Strike Group or supporting smaller scale operations.
Three navy ships have been named for the notion of freedom. The first USS Freedom was a member of the Navy’s Cruisers and Transport Force. A second Freedom (IX-43) was an auxiliary schooner assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy where she served in a noncommissioned status through 1962. The current USS Freedom (LCS 1) is a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) designed to defeat maritime threats and support sea control in coastal waters. This Freedom is a fast, maneuverable, and networked surface ship that is multi-mission capable.
USS Independence (LCS 2) is the sixth ship to be named for the concept of independence. Independence is also an LCS, but of a different variant with a unique trimaran design. Its use of interchangeable technology allows for operational flexibility supporting various mission requirements in coastal waters.
All three ships are currently defending our nation just as their predecessors did before them. While many of us will take this time to come together and celebrate the holiday, please remember the thousands of Sailors and Marines who are deployed around the world protecting our freedom.
Through their service and sacrifice, Sailors and Marines continue to make every day Independence Day for the United States of America while serving at sea, in the air, or ashore.
For more history and information on these ships, please visit the Naval History & Heritage Command website.
There have been a number of exciting things happening in the world of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) lately. From the successful completion of USS Jackson (LCS 6)’s first Full Ship Shock Trials to PCU Detroit (the future LCS 7)’s upcoming commissioning, the positive momentum of LCS is continuing as Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) transits to participate in the U.S. Navy’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise beginning June 30.
RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime exercise. It provides a unique training opportunity to help participants foster and sustain cooperative relationships critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security of the world’s oceans. While at RIMPAC, Coronado is scheduled to become the first LCS to demonstrate the ability to launch a Block III Harpoon missile.
Originally developed in the early 1970’s, the Harpoon missile was created to serve as the Navy’s basic anti-ship missile. The missile is an all-weather, anti-ship, over-the-horizon (OTH) system that can be launched from multiple platforms to engage a wide variety of land-based targets. It’s also capable of locating and destroying enemy ships at distances up to 100 nautical miles.
The Harpoon uses a small, active radar homing system in the nose of the missile to guide it in a low-level, sea-skimming cruise route, making it nearly undetectable to adversaries while improving the warhead’s survivability. Once the radar system identifies its target, it will pilot the missile for a precise impact – detonating a 500-pound warhead with lethal firepower.
The demonstration at RIMPAC will show how the Harpoon missile can be utilized on one of the Navy’s newest platforms, the LCS. Still evolving, LCSs were designed as multi-mission ships capable of operating in a wide-range of environments, from the open ocean to coastal and littoral waters. Testing and expanding the capabilities of LCSs will likely continue as the Naval Surface Force focuses on building their offensive capabilities in line with the principles of Distributed Lethality.
USS Coronado (LCS 4) left her homeport of San Diego on June 22 and is scheduled to begin a planned deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility at the conclusion of RIMPAC.
As with many careers, the professional maritime environment comes with its own vernacular. Indeed the U.S. Navy Surface Force has a variety of common words and phrases that can be downright confusing to land-lovers.
Sailors say things like haze gray, gedunk, scuttlebutt, bulldog away; the list goes on and on. But what does it all mean??
Some common terms are shortened versions of sayings from long ago. “Haze gray” comes from the longer phrase “haze gray and underway,” which refers to both the flat gray color scheme of surface ships (that makes them harder to see from a distance) and being “underway” or out to sea. Sailors often use both the short and long versions of this saying to describe surface ships that are currently or will shortly be going to sea.
While haze gray, Sailors might take a break and enjoy some gedunk, or snacks. The term’s origins are debatable. “Gedunk bar” appeared in Leatherneck Magazine in 1931 and was a popular World War II term to describe the location where service members could purchase snacks and drinks when the regular dining areas were closed. It may have come from the sound a vending machine makes when a purchased candy bar hits the opening tray, or from a corruption of the German “ge tunk,” which means to repetitively dip something. Supposedly this idea dates back to the practice of improving stale bread’s taste by dunking it into milk. Whatever the origin, Sailors now use gedunk to describe both the area where snacks are purchased and the snacks themselves.
While indulging in some gedunk, Sailors might discuss the latest “scuttlebutt.” Not to be confused with the mouse villain from the movie ‘An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island,’ scuttlebutt is slang for gossip or rumors.
In the middle of a good scuttlebutt session, Sailors might shift to telling sea stories and recount the time when they were on board a ship that launched birds or a bulldog. Here context matters: a bird can be a generic term for a plane or refer to a missile. And a bulldog isn’t a bulldog at all, but rather a Harpoon cruise missile whose launch is confirmed with the term, “bulldog away.”
Just like other professions have their own common expressions, the U.S. Navy and her Surface Forces are no exception. Through the years Sailors have developed a rich glossary of terms for many items, directions and events. And that’s no scuttlebutt.
Guest Blog By: Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet | June 06, 2016
My 36 years as a naval officer have taught me that warfighting comes first. It’s a lesson I’ve learned first-hand in the many conflicts I’ve seen throughout my career, and thus readiness is my number one priority. I expect U.S. 7th Fleet forces to be able to fight tonight, and I am convinced that our Sailors are up to that if called upon.
The work the Sailors of the 7th Fleet Staff and USS Blue Ridge have been doing these past three months during our “Spring Patrol” has helped ensure we won’t have to fight tonight – but that if we do, we’ll do so in an environment with as many allies and partners as possible.
The Blue Ridge and 7th Fleet staff visited 10 ports in 8 different countries to build partnerships throughout the region. To visit so many ports on deployment may sound like a sailor’s dream come true, after all, many of us joined the Navy to see the world. I won’t deny there were adventures, but I also know that the crew and staff poured hard work into planning and conducting the multitude of engagements, professional exchanges, staff talks, ship tours, and community relations events.
The effort was worth it. The United States has been operating here for over 150 years, and the Seventh Fleet for 70, but as new challenges arise, the engagement mission has never been more important. Our team strengthened relationships between the United States and our friends in the Indo-Asia Pacific, and fostered new friendships as well. Each port we’ve visited has been important to our ongoing mission of laying foundational blocks that help maintain stability and security throughout the region. Out here relationships really count, and we can’t build them in the heat of the moment – it takes time.
To highlight a few of our visits, our work on this patrol created inroads that will enhance our bilateral cooperation with Sri Lanka, strengthen our partnership with India, and add depth to our alliance with the Philippines. We also helped grow our relationship with the People’s Liberation Army Navy in China. These efforts go a long way in demonstrating to the world the benefits of professional seamanship and cooperation between navies. I believe that such work helps preserve peace and build prosperity for the countries in this region and beyond.The Blue Ridge – the 7th Fleet flagship for 36 years now – has been vital in enabling us to do this. She has served us well during this most recent voyage throughout the Indo-Asia Pacific, covering more than 13,000 nautical miles during her more than 80-day patrol. Blue Ridge will now begin an Extended Dry-docking Selected Restricted Availability period, during which she will receive not only maintenance but equipment upgrades as well, so that she can help us carry out the 7th Fleet mission for many years to come.
While Blue Ridge is in maintenance, the work of strengthening partnerships and building friendships will continue. I’m proud to say that this work is central to our mission. Make no mistake about it, 7th Fleet brings credible combat readiness to the region to defend our country and support our allies in the face of a variety of threats. But real success is achieved when we can enable security, stability, peace and prosperity without a fight, and the transparency, goodwill, and professionalism we demonstrate do contribute to that success.
Being the Commander of the 7th Fleet is a dream job. I’m very happy to be here working with the men and women of the Fleet in this vibrant area of the world. I firmly believe our presence here over the last seven decades has helped bring stability to the region, generating economic prosperity not only in the Indo-Asia Pacific, but to areas beyond as well. Our efforts here are just as important today as they were 70 years ago.
Guest Blog By: Lieutenant Todd Weeks, Anti-Submarine/Anti-Surface Warfare Tactics Instructor
As soon as my commanding officer said the U.S. Navy wanted to start an advanced tactical-training program for Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) I applied to become a Warfare Tactics Instructor, or WTI. The command at the forefront of this renaissance – the new Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) – sought top SWOs to build the WTI curriculum, and I wanted to be a part of it.
When the time came, I called in for my interview while deployed in the Arabian Gulf on board a minesweeper. After the interview I filled out an application, and a month later my orders were released to report to SMWDC. I was excited to be a part of the WTI program, yet I felt even more grateful to have a stake in establishing this schoolhouse from the very beginning. I graduated from the first Anti-Submarine/Anti-Surface WTI class on April 12, 2016.
Now that I’m a patch wearer, it’s my job to raise operational skill sets on board Navy ships with the latest knowledge in our field. I get to teach SWOs new tactics, techniques, and procedures that were either created or updated by SMWDC. I have the opportunity to travel overseas to study and assess various missile exercises – or work with missile manufacturers to gain advanced knowledge on specific missile systems.
WTI life is exciting because it provides a diverse workday, challenging me to stay up-to-date on multiple warfare areas and allowing me to better train the SWOs coming through the WTI schoolhouse in San Diego. And best of all; I get to do this while remotely pursuing my Master’s Degree in Systems Analysis at the Naval Post Graduate School (NPS).
The process for enrollment was easy. Remote NPS students select which day they elect to have class each week; I have two classes each quarter and the support of my chain of command. They consistently encourage me to pursue my degree while teaching at the WTI schoolhouse. I have the best of both worlds because I get to fulfill my professional and personal goals through the Navy as a teacher by day and a student by night.
Yet, as I much as I enjoy pursuing my advanced education, my true fulfillment is rooted in increasing the tactical proficiency of the Surface Warfare community as a WTI. We’re improving the combat readiness of our ships, our strike groups, and our Navy – while still having time to improve ourselves – in the fleet and in the classroom.
Moving to a new location can be stressful, and we often look to family for support, friends to help with packing, and movers to transport things to the new location. Each person has a different but important job in order to get the task completed. Similarly, the U.S. Navy has different ships for different types of missions, with each platform designed for their own specific purpose. When it comes to moving U.S. Marine to where they need to be, they call their brothers and sisters in the Navy for an assist.
One of the best ships for this task is the Dock Landing Ship, or LSD. Designed to transport amphibious craft with their crews and embarked personnel, the LSD platform can support beach landings via conventional landing craft, helicopters, and Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft. These LCACs are used to carry and transport troops, equipment, and other supplies. They can travel at high speeds, up to 40 knots (about 46 miles per hour), to accommodate rapid beach landings and personnel insertions.
The ability to land Marines on beaches has long been an important part of warfare. During World War II, the U.S. needed a vessel that could carry Navy and Marine Corps personnel, weapons, supplies, and large landing craft across the seas at fast speeds. In 1941, English ship designer, Sir Roland Baker, designed the British Tank Landing Craft (LCT), which inspired the U.S. construction of LSDs.
There are now two classes of LSDs, the Whidbey Island-class and the Harpers Ferry-class. Both classes have well decks that can be flooded to launch and recover LCACs and other similarly-sized landing craft. They have flight decks for the launch and recovery of helicopters and the V-22 Ospreys tilt-rotor aircraft. Both classes can also provide landing craft with space for docking, repair, fueling services and, if needed, LSDs can serve as the primary control ship during an amphibious assault.
Although the two classes may look a lot alike on the outside, they’re actually very different inside. The Whidbey Island-class ships were specifically designed to operate LCACs and can carry up to four of them – the largest capacity for LCAC transport of any Navy amphibious platform. It can also provide docking and repair services for LCACs as well as for conventional landing craft. While the Harpers Ferry-class ships offer similar capabilities as her sister class, they’ve been modified to accommodate just two LCACs in order to increase their cargo capacity.
Wherever Marines need to go, the Navy’s Dock Landing Ships play a vital role in the process of providing forward power projection and protection around the world.
Please check back for future installments to learn more about the different types of ships that comprise the U.S. Navy Surface Fleet.
“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die,” said American baseball player George Herman Ruth, Jr. famously known as Babe Ruth. This quote holds true in the U.S. Navy, especially in the U.S. Surface Fleet where there are currently 21 naval warships named for Medal of Honor recipients.
Today in our second installment of a multi-part series, we’re highlighting four Surface Force ships whose brave namesakes were awarded the prestigious decoration; USS Howard, USS James E. Williams, USS Gonzalez, and USS Donald Cook.
USS Howard (DDG 83) is named in honor of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jimmie E. Howard. On August 21, 1967, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions when he led his platoon into battle against the Viet Cong force. During the 12-hour attack, Howard and his men killed 200 enemy troops.
USS James E. Williams (DDG 95) is named in honor of Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James Elliot Williams. On May 14, 1968, Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions in the Vietnam War. He served as a patrol-boat commander on the night of Oct. 31, 1966 when two of his boats came under attack. In an intense three-hour battle, he and his men killed 65 enemy combatants, destroyed more than 50 of their vessels, and disrupted a major enemy logistic operation.
USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) is named in honor of Marine Sergeant Alfredo “Freddy” Cantu Gonzalez, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on October 31, 1969 for his brave actions in the Vietnam War. During the Battle of Hue – one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the Vietnam War – Sgt. Gonzalez risked and lost his life firing numerous rounds of ammunition while moving from his position. He successfully knocked out enemy positions and suppressed much of their fire in the process.
USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) is named in honor of Marine Colonel Donald G. Cook, the first Marine captured in Vietnam to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, for his courage and behavior while a prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam. During his captivity, he took it upon himself to set an example for his fellow POWs. He risked his own health and well-being by sharing his food and some medicines with other prisoners who needed it and refused to betray the Military Code of Conduct. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on February 26, 1980.
These brave men and their noble actions have managed to be both heroic and legendary. Their selfless legacies continue to live on, inspiring others to go above and beyond in protecting our nation ensuring their legacies live on through the ships that bear their names, and the Sailors who represent them.
Please join us in the upcoming months as we recognize the remaining surface ships in future installments of Surface Navy Remembers Medal of Honor Recipients.