The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) arrives in San Diego Harbor as she completes her maiden deployment.
By Lt. Ed Early, USS Freedom Public Affairs
SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- The Navy's first littoral combat ship (LCS), USS Freedom (LCS 1), concluded its successful maiden deployment with arrival its homeport of San Diego April 23.
The historic deployment, the first for a ship of the class, came over two years ahead of schedule, taking the ship to three countries and through the U.S. 4th Fleet and U.S. 3rd Fleet Areas of Responsibility (AOR).
While underway, Freedom conducted counter-illicit trafficking (CIT) operations, making four successful interdictions that netted more than five tons of cocaine, seized two "go fast" drug vessels and took nine suspected smugglers into custody. In addition to independent operations, the ship successfully integrated with USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Carrier Strike Group, performed exercises with partner navies and conducted joint maneuvers with USS McInerney (FFG 8) and Fire Scout, the frigate's embarked unmanned aerial vehicle.
"Freedom's homecoming, after a successful maiden deployment, is a significant milestone for the surface Navy and the future of surface warfare," said Vice Adm. D.C. Curtis, commander, Naval Surface Force Pacific. "This is a special day for the Freedom crew, the entire LCS program and the great city of San Diego. As a team they performed magnificently and worked hard to complete their missions in support of the Maritime strategy. We have learned many important lessons from this early deployment that will be applied to future LCS fleet operations."
Arrival in San Diego comes five years after the ship's keel was laid in Marinette, Wis., and 18 months after commissioning in Milwaukee.
"The deployment was an opportunity that most had waited for several years to see come," said Cmdr. Randy Garner, Freedom's commanding officer. "The many lessons we learned will serve us well in the future, and I am very proud to have been part of the teamwork and focus that all onboard demonstrated."
After departing Mayport, Fla., Feb. 16, Freedom conducted CIT operations in the 4th Fleet AOR. In less than three weeks of at-sea operations, Freedom made four drug seizures – symbolized by four "snowflakes" adorning her bridge wings – and recovered more than 5 tons of cocaine.
"It's awesome to have those snowflakes on the hull," said Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Patrick Johnson, a coxswain for the Surface Warfare (SUW) Mission Package who drove Freedom's 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats during the drug interdictions. "I'm excited about what we've done, and I want to continue doing it."
From there, Freedom engaged in theater security cooperation port visits to Cartagena, Colombia; Panama City, Panama; and Manzanillo, Mexico. In each port, Freedom's Sailors interacted with their partner-nation counterparts and participated in community relations projects that benefited local neighborhoods.
Throughout the deployment, Freedom broke new ground in operations with other Navy ships and partner nation forces. In addition to working with the Colombian Navy and Panamanian Public Forces, Freedom operated at sea with the Mexican Navy frigate ARM Nicolas Bravo (F 201).
The ship also engaged in its first strike group operations with the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group for high-speed operations, re-fueling at sea, surface gunnery events and visit, board, search and seizure evolutions. Prior to entering the 3rd Fleet AOR, Freedom conducted joint maneuvers in the Eastern Pacific with the guided-missile frigate USS McInerney (FFG 8), which carried the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle. McInerney and Freedom also conducted adjacent CIT patrols in the region.
"The opportunity for Freedom to work with a carrier strike group for the first time was icing on the cake of our first operational deployment," said Garner. "We demonstrated how Freedom and future littoral combat ships are capable of working as part of a strike group when needed."
Garner was quick to offer credit to the embarked units that accompanied his Gold Crew throughout the deployment. The SUW Mission Package was joined by Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, Detachment 2, based in Norfolk, Va., and a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment.
"Success in counter-narcotics trafficking missions takes several teams to come together in short order and each of our detachments did exactly that," said Garner. "We were very fortunate to have the group that we did and it shows in the success they enjoyed."
The men and women of Freedom echoed their commander's pride in having completed their mission successfully.
"I did not expect anything less from our crew - this is the way they have always performed," said Freedom Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Anthony Decker. "As for our detachments, we wouldn't have had the success we had without their expertise and help. They have been phenomenal."
After performing a crew swap – with the Gold Crew turning over to the Blue Crew, commanded by Cmdr. Kris Doyle – and undergoing maintenance, Freedom will resume operations in summer 2010 by journeying to the International Fleet Review at Esquimalt, British Columbia, and participating in the 2010 Rim of the Pacific exercise.
The first ship of the revolutionary LCS program, Freedom is a fast, agile and maneuverable ship designed to compliment the Navy's larger multimission surface combatants in select mission areas, including combating submarines, mines and fast-attack craft threats in the littorals.
For more news from USS Freedom (LCS 1), visit www.navy.mil/local/lcs1/.