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Ship return from turbulent water

Ship return from turbulent water
Prototype completes mission after a series of mechanical problems.

 

One of the Navy’s premier, new generation combat ships sailed back into San Diego Monday afternoon as the Freedom completed its inaugural deployment, one marked by successes but also some breakdowns that have raised eyebrows in Congress.

The Freedom’s deployment was intended to test the littoral, or near-shore, vessel’s capabilities, show off its speed and boost its credibility. Despite some solid performances in joint exercises with Asian navies, the $500 million prototype ship also had its share of woes. Breakdowns included lubrication system problems seawater contamination and subsequent rusty sediment from the seawater  and a steering issue prompted by a broken cable.

Cmdr. Roger Heinken said those issues paled in comparison to how the ship and his 52 crew members performed during the more than four months he was in charge. The Freedom, which like other littoral vessels in the planned 52-ship program can speed at up to 40 knots, is designed to swap out crews mid-deployment.

“It was a success for us, for the crew and for the Navy in general,” Heinken said during a discussion with U-T San Diego in the ship’s wardroom after a reporter and photographer flew out to the Freedom Monday morning.

“This ship has performed very well,” Heinken said. “We’ve executed every mission we were tasked by Seventh Fleet on time. We were able to flex and test the concept of operation forward stationing these ships in places like Singapore, rotating crews and operating with long-standing and new partners in the region.”

After nine months in Asia-Pacific waters, which included “show the flag” time in the South China Sea, the Freedom’s return was celebrated by more than two dozen family members gathered at Naval Station San Diego. Among them was Marcie Hernandez, who gave birth to a son on Oct. 31. Her husband, Chief Petty Officer Joel Hernandez, held his new son for the first time minutes after the ship was dock side.

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