USS Vandegrift's sailors set to welcome replacements
July 8, 2006
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — His time on a frigate he won’t soon forget — even though his days on the USS Vandegrift are numbered, says Seaman Eric Thomas.
Thomas, along with about 70 Vandegrift sailors, will “cross decks” to the USS Mustin, the Navy’s newest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, coming to take the 12-year-old frigate’s place in the forward-deployed naval forces.
The Mustin hails from San Diego and is to arrive Saturday at Yokosuka Naval Base.
“I’m looking at it as a challenge,” Thomas said. “There’s new attitudes, new equipment, and I’ll be working with women for the first time at sea.”
The change — two years in the planning — is a “watershed event” as the Navy replaces one type of ship with another, said Vandegrift commanding officer Cmdr. David Chase.
This poses a challenge for the crew swap, as some jobs don’t translate between ships, he said.
For example, a Vandegrift gunners’ mate operates a 76 mm rapid-firing gun. One on the Mustin — commissioned in 2003 and equipped with the Navy’s most modern combat weapons system — will deal with missiles, torpedo launchers, an electronic weapons system and a 5-inch gun.
The Mustin also is larger — with a complement of about 270 people compared with the Vandegrift’s 177. This means 40 percent of the Vandegrift’s crew will “cross-deck” with about 35 percent of the Mustin’s.
Crews started integrating in January and leadership is planning to conduct on-the-job training, Chase said. They also will use the month between Mustin’s arrival and Vandegrift’s departure to “impart wisdom about living in Japan,” he said.
“We can move the navigation charts, but the most important thing is to transfer our experience,” Chase said. “You can’t get that from a book.”
The frigate has been forward deployed for 10 years and has been a “workhorse” in terms of operational tempo in the Pacific, he said. Beyond returning to San Diego in August, the Navy’s long-range plans for the Vandegrift are unknown, said Chase.
In general, the Navy plans to phase out all of the frigates by 2020. About half of the Navy’s 61 Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, like the Vandegrift, have been decommissioned. Others are being used for counter-drug operations, Chase said.
“We don’t know what’s in store for the Vandegrift,” Chase said. “She’s a great ship and still has a lot of life in her.”
For his part, Chief Petty Officer Gerald Stanker, an operations specialist, anticipates a “steep learning curve” when he switches over to the Mustin. There are more “whiz-bang toys” on the Mustin that operations specialists must do manually on the Vandegrift, he said. But he gets more office space on the new ship, he said.
“It’s a brand new ship,” Stanker said. “I don’t think the paint is even dry.”
Shipping in: A ceremony welcoming the USS Mustin will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at Yokosuka Naval Base.
Shipping out: A farewell ceremony for the USS Vandegrift will be held Aug. 10, time and place to be announced.