Kenneth Stevens, a 100-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, salutes the USS Daniel Inouye, Dec. 7, 2022, during a ceremony at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial commemorating the 81st anniversary of the surprise attack.

Kenneth Stevens, a 100-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, salutes the USS Daniel Inouye, Dec. 7, 2022, during a ceremony at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial commemorating the 81st anniversary of the surprise attack. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

(Tribune News Service) — The USS Daniel Inouye, the Pearl Harbor-­based warship named for the late Hawaii senator and war hero, is gearing up for its first deployment amid a tide of geopolitical tensions and uncertainty. For the ship's crew of 320 sailors, it's about more than just sailing a ship through the Pacific. The namesake of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is a figure that looms large in Hawaii's history.

Inouye lost his arm fighting against the Nazis in Italy as a member of the Army's 442nd Infantry Regiment — for which he later received the Medal of Honor — before pursuing a career in politics that would both shape the future of the islands and make him a powerful force in American national politics. More than a decade after his death, his legacy has touched nearly every aspect of life in Hawaii.

"Throughout these islands, he's everywhere," said Cmdr. Kevin Dore, the ship's captain. "As we've met the community and understood just the impact that he's had, to be given the opportunity to now represent that legacy carrying forward is a distinct honor."

The construction of the $1.5 billion USS Daniel Ino­uye began in 2018 and it was christened in a 2019 ceremony at the Bath Iron Works in Maine. Before sailing to Hawaii, the Ino­uye family Bible and other heirlooms gifted by the family were placed in a box aboard the 509-foot warship. But it ultimately took longer than expected for the USS Daniel Inouye to reach Hawaii.

Construction ran into several setbacks, including a pandemic-­induced slowdown in shipbuilding across the nation and a nine-week strike by Bath Iron Works workers during the summer of 2020. After sea trials in the northern Atlantic in December 2020, the ship finally arrived at its Honolulu home port in November 2021 and it was finally officially commissioned Dec. 8, 2021.

The ship has since made its way around the islands, with its crew participating in outreach and community service projects. Parts of the ship have also served as sets for episodes of "NCIS: Hawai'i."

But it's not all hugs and handshakes. In March during an exercise off Kauai, the Inouye used its onboard Aegis missile defense system to intercept a ballistic missile. And back in Pearl Harbor, crew members have been doing regular maintenance and training to prepare for deployment.

Firefighting drills are frequent. Though the crew includes sailors specifically trained for firefighting, Dore said that during a deployment "every sailor is a firefighter." Fires at sea are a serious matter for sailors. During the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise last year, two Peruvian sailors were seriously injured during an engine room fire aboard their ship, the BAP Guise.

The USS Daniel Inouye is one of the Navy's newest Arleigh Burke-destroyers. Unlike earlier vessels in its class, its particular model has built-in hangars to take helicopters with it to sea. Lt. Cmdr. Travis Schallenberger, who oversees maintenance at the Kaneohe-based Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron Three Seven, said "we are getting set … right now to put (USS Daniel Inouye's) first detachment on board ever."

It's a lot of work for the ship's crew as they prepare their mission, with some members sleeping on board. But Dore said he's trying to strike a balance and ensure they get rest and make the most of island living.

"We have barracks here, so I try not to have folks living on board," he said. "For a variety of reasons some will choose to do that, and that's fine. But we're gonna frankly spend a lot of time aboard a ship where you don't get a choice — you're gonna be here. So I want people to get out into the community as best we can."

Navy officials won't say when the ship is expected to deploy — the service prefers not to discuss specifics on planned ship movements for security reasons — but according to officials it is expected to eventually set sail as part of a carrier group led by the San Diego-based USS Theodore Roosevelt on a westward voyage.

The ship's namesake played a central role in shaping U.S. policy in Asia and the Pacific during his time in the U.S. Senate. Inouye chaired several key committees, including those on intelligence, commerce and appropriations. From 2010 until his death in 2012 he served as president pro tempore of the Senate.

Inouye frequently used his powerful position to steer federal funding, particularly defense dollars, into Hawaii's economy. Policymakers have described Hawaii's economy as a "three-legged stool" propped up by tourism, construction and defense spending. Defense initiatives Inouye pushed for are still coming to fruition and his influence on military planning in the Pacific is still felt more than a decade after his death.

Lately, the military's footprint in Hawaii has been the subject of intensified local scrutiny.

The military is working to remove 104 million gallons of fuel from the Navy's underground Red Hill facility that sit just 100 feet above a critical aquifer that most of Honolulu relies on for drinking water. Navy officials for years insisted that the facility was safe, but in November 2021, fuel from the facility tainted the Navy's Oahu water system that serves 93,000 people, including military families and local families that live in former military housing areas.

A succession of toxic spills at Red Hill and other military facilities has strained relations between island residents and military leaders at a time when the military considers the Pacific to be its top priority area of operations as tensions boil with the Chinese military.

On Monday, the military released video of what it called an unsafe maneuver over the weekend by a Chinese navy vessel in the Taiwan Strait in which it cut across the path of the USS Chung-Hoon, another Pearl Harbor-based destroyer named for a Hawaii-born World War II hero, forcing it to slow to avoid collision.

The Chung-Hoon was conducting a so-called freedom of navigation transit of the strait along with Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Montreal. Beijing considers the strait to be its territory, and Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy, to be a rogue province. Many countries in the region consider the Taiwan Strait to be international waters and a critical shipping lane. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has vowed to use military force if necessary to bring Taiwan under his government's control.

The incident took place while both U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu were in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual defense and security conference. During the conference, Li accused the United States and its allies of provoking China and urged diplomacy, but also refused American requests for meetings and dismissed calls from several other countries to resume talks with the United States.

Escalating regional tensions have stoked fears that a major conflict could break out in the Pacific, costing untold lives and throwing the global economy into chaos. China has been locked in a series of maritime disputes over territorial and navigation rights with neighboring countries in the South China Sea, a critical trade route that more than a third of all international trade moves through.

Beijing claims nearly the entire waterway as its exclusive sovereign territory, and has harassed fisherman and merchant vessels from neighboring countries as well as built bases on disputed land formations to assert its claims. In response, the United States and other countries have been conducting frequent "freedom of navigation operations" in the region as part of their near constant world wide operations.

Between its time in the shipyard in Maine, its voyage to Hawaii and time in the islands, Dore is now the third officer to command the USS Daniel Inouye. But he will be the first to lead it and its crew in a real-world mission.

"That is what this ship is built for," Dore said. "That's why these sailors are here is to do this job, so to be able to go forward and do that is a distinct privilege."

(c)2023 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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