SASEBO, Japan - The mine countermeasures ships USS Avenger (MCM 1) and USS Defender (MCM 2) departed Fleet Activities Sasebo for the final time after completing a hull swap with USS Pioneer (MCM 9) and USS Chief (MCM 14) July 15, 2014.
The two ships, which are the first Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships, departed Sasebo for decommissioning at their final destination of San Diego after 27 years of naval service for Avenger and 25 years for Defender.
"The hull swap was part of an overseas force structure change, which is part of the Navy's long term strategy to rotate newer and more capable units to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility," said Lt. Cmdr. Jim Correia, commanding officer of Defender and who will continue to serve as commanding officer of Chief. "This is an upgrade in our combat system capabilities and engineering capabilities."
The crews of Avenger and Defender have spent the previous five months undergoing constant preparations for the hull swap.
"The crew has been preparing materially and administratively to facilitate the shift to Pioneer," said Lt. Cmdr. Bobby Rowden, executive officer of Avenger, who will continue to serve as executive officer of Pioneer. "This includes moving our crew and material from one ship to the other and getting Pioneer's operational systems up and running to immediately make her a viable operational asset."
Lt. Cmdr. Todd Penrod, who served as the commanding officer of Avenger and will continue to serve as commanding officer of Pioneer, said that though he was looking forward to continuing the ship's legacy with Pioneer, it is disheartening to see Avenger go.
"It's always sad to see the lead ship in a class decommissioned," said Penrod. "Avenger was the original Iron Man, and it was an honor to serve as commanding officer."
During the hull swap the crew of Avenger took something special with them to Pioneer to remember her.
"People who come onboard usually comment that we have unique mess decks, which consist of glass plates and under them are patches, sports memorabilia and other things that make our Sailors who they are," said Penrod. "When we swap over to Pioneer we are moving the mess deck with us to remind us who we are and where we came from."
Correia also said he was saddened to see the Defender go but was optimistic to serve aboard Chief, which was named in honor of the rank of Chief Petty Officer, the Navy's senior enlisted leaders.
"Defender is 25 years old but I would put her material condition up against any other ship in the fleet. The crew really tried to make it their own and make sure she looks the best she can," said Correia. "Leaving Defender will be a personal loss for me as I feel she is leaving the fleet way too soon, even though the increased capabilities of Chief will be a great thing to have in 7th Fleet."
During the hull swap, Defender had t-shirts made which will be wearable with the Navy Working Uniform and coveralls that include Defender's logo and motto "Secure the Path" along with "Path Secured" to remember and honor the legacy of Defender and the spirit of her crew.
"If you talk to any of the crew members onboard, they would tell you that they are excited to move forward with Chief," said Lt. Cmdr. Shane Dennis, the executive officer of Defender. "They aspire for greatness and come to work with a can-do attitude and spirit regardless of what their rank says, and I couldn't ask for a better crew of Sailors."
Chief and Pioneer will assume Avenger and Defender's role of hunting, sweeping, and neutralizing mines.