SINGAPORE -- Sailors aboard the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) had the unique opportunity of interacting with the nation's highest ranking military advisor when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the ship, June 2.
Hagel, who was in Singapore for the 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue, made a special detour to Changi Naval Base to tour the Navy's first littoral combat ship and talk to the Freedom's crew about the strategic importance of their maiden deployment to the Asia-Pacific region.
"We're all making history out here, I think you know that," Hagel said, addressing Sailors via the ship's 1MC. "What you represent to our country and our partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region cannot be overstated. You are really defining a new era, a new ship, new capacities and new opportunities. And I wanted to tell you how much we appreciate your good work."
During his tour, he stopped several times to shake hands and talk with enlisted Sailors on the mess decks, hangar, flight deck and boat ramp. Hagel also asked the forward-deployed crew to thank their families, most of which are waiting in San Diego for their Sailors to redeploy, for their support. "When you talk to them, tell them how much we appreciate what they're doing for their country," Hagel said.
"I was really struck by how personal he was with the crew," said Freedom's commanding officer, Cmdr. Timothy Wilke. "He really wanted to meet them, and find out where they were from, what they do and how long they had been in. I'm very excited that he was so impressed with the crew."
Crew members expressed similar excitement at the opportunity to meet Hagel, who was sworn in as the 24th Secretary of Defense, Feb. 27, 2013.
"It was a real honor to meet the first enlisted man ever to attain the rank of Secretary of Defense, and a Vietnam veteran," said Firecontrolman 1st Class Yusuf Kezala. "His experience of getting shrapnel in the chest from a mine is amazing and inspiring."
"He's a people person. He was very personable, and I was really excited to find out that he was from the Midwest," said Aviation Machinist's Mate 1st Class Donald Carngie. "That made him a lot more human to me."
Fast, agile, and mission-focused, LCS platforms are designed to operate in near-shore environments and employ modular mission packages that can be configured for three separate purposes: surface warfare, mine countermeasures, or anti-submarine warfare.
Freedom is initially manned by her "Gold" crew of 91 Sailors to include mission package personnel and an aviation detachment to operate an embarked MH-60 helicopter.
Freedom will remain home-ported in San Diego throughout this rotational deployment to Southeast Asia. Midway through Freedom's deployment, a crew-swap will be conducted with her "Blue" crew.