Amphibious transport dock's long-awaited deployment delayed
NORFOLK, Va. — Derek Barnes joined the Navy to see the world and was frustrated when his first assignment landed him on the San Antonio three years ago.
The first-in-its-class amphibious transport dock formally known as LPD 17 was so riddled with problems after returning from its maiden deployment in 2009 that sailors at Norfolk Naval Station jeeringly dubbed it "Building 17" because it never left the pier.
Airman 1st Class Barnes and his crewmates spent two years in and out of the shipyard while the ship's mechanical and engineering problems were diagnosed and fixed.
"It got worse. It got better. It got worse. It got better," Barnes said. "Finally we're going to do what we were trained to do."
After years of expensive repairs and struggles, the ship was ready to make its second overseas deployment today.
"San Antonio is in the best shape of its life," said Cmdr. Neil Koprowski, the commanding officer. "Everything is working as it should work."
But one last little hitch got between the ship and eight months in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea: the weather.
Forecasts calling for high winds and rough seas along the East Coast forced the Navy to keep the San Antonio and two other Hampton Roads-based ships attached to its amphibious ready group in port until Monday.
It's a minor setback compared with the ship's past troubles.
The Navy has spent millions of dollars to correct the San Antonio's much-publicized mechanical problems since it was commissioned in 2006. The ship required emergency engine repairs midway through its maiden cruise in 2008 and extensive overhauls when it returned to Norfolk. That was followed by major repairs in the shipyard over the course of a few years.
Koprowski, who became the San Antonio's executive officer in June 2010 while it was in the yard, said the crew is raring to get out to sea after so many months in port. All of the ship's mechanical problems have been corrected, he said.
On Thursday, sailors zipped through narrow passageways carrying bulging sea bags as cranes loaded the ship with ordnance.
For Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Gutermuth, an operations specialist aboard the San Antonio since November 2009, finally deploying — even a few days late — will be a reward after long days and numerous weekend shifts.
"If you really saw where this ship once was and where it is now," he said, "it's a great feeling of accomplishment."
Koprowski said he'll be proud when the ship leaves port and begins its journey across the Atlantic.
He hopes the San Antonio will forever free itself of that "building" nickname.
"This is not a building anymore," Koprowski said. "This is a warship that is going to go out and fight the nation's fight."