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120415-N-ZS026-139 PANAMA CANAL (April 15, 2012) - Littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) prepares to exit the Gatun Lock during the ship’s first Panama Canal transit. The Gatun Lock is the first step in the Panama Canal transit where the Atlantic Ocean ends and the canal begins. Independence's Gold Crew and embarked Mine Countermeasure Squadron, Detachment 1, are underway for the ship's maiden voyage to its homeport of San Diego. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trevor Welsh/Released)
USS Independence Conducts First Panama Canal Transit 
USS INDEPENDENCE, At Sea - Littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) conducted the ship's first Panama Canal transit April 15 while underway to her homeport of San Diego.

Independence's Gold Crew is the first to bring Independence through the Panama Canal, sailing a 105-foot-wide ship through canal locks only 110-foot-wide.

"This is a very challenging evolution because of the large size of this vessel," said Cmdr. Gerald Olin, Independence commanding officer. "It's also significant because it's the first time that an Independence-class warship has transited the Panama Canal. The crew worked hard today to get us through safely, and we're excited to be one step closer to San Diego."

During the 44.5-mile transit, starting at the Atlantic Ocean entrance, the ship passed through the Gatun, Pedro Miguel, and Miraflores Locks. The ship was tied to mechanized "mules" that guided the ship as locks were flooded and drained, allowing for 85 feet of elevation change during the transit.

Independence's weapons officer, Lt. j.g. James Masterson, stood watch as conning officer on the bridge during the transit through the three sets of locks.

"The biggest challenge was the distance between either side of the ship and the locks," said Masterson. "The whole time, I was focusing on the navigational tools I had, making sure I was dead set in the center."

When the transit was complete, the ship moored in Rodman, Panama, to refuel. The ship will then continue its transit to the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of responsibility.

"It feels great bringing the ship to the west coast," said Masterson. "This really is the point of no return, we are definitely going home and it's a great moment for the whole crew. I'm glad that I am able to be part of it."

The LCS is a fast, agile, networked surface combatant designed to operate in the near-shore environment, while capable of open-ocean tasking, and win against 21st-century coastal threats such as submarines, mines, and swarming small craft.

Sailors assigned to Independence's Gold Crew and embarked Mine Countermeasures Squadron, Detachment 1, are underway for the ship's maiden voyage to San Diego.

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