SINGAPORE - Aboard the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) the outgoing "Gold" crew and incoming "Blue" crew completed the first crew swap on a deployed LCS during a brief turnover ceremony Aug. 6.
Both crews assembled in two distinct formations on either side of the flight deck "T" line used to designate vertical replenishment landing zones. In the background, hundreds of seabags and camouflage backpacks filled the airborne mission zone, or reconfigurable helo hangar on an LCS class ship. In the foreground, Freedom's color guard stood ready to raise the national ensign and commence the exchange of command ceremony.
Capt. Paul Schlise, commander, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 presided over the ceremony. He commended the "Gold" crew for meeting the challenges of a first-in-class ship on a maiden overseas deployment, and congratulated them on a job well done.
"You all have made history," he said to more than 90 Sailors assigned to the "Gold" crew's core component, surface warfare mission package and aviation detachment. "The entire chain of command is incredibly proud of you. You can leave Singapore with a great deal of pride and satisfaction in a job well done."
The crew swap marked the mid-way point of the first rotational deployment of an LCS to Southeast Asia. Over the last five months, Freedom's "Gold" crew had deployed from San Diego, transited across the Pacific Ocean and operated Freedom during port visits, exercises and exchanges in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR). Freedom's "Blue" crew arrived in Singapore July 31, eager to continue the second half of the deployment, and build on the relationships Freedom established with regional navies. Although both crews turned over several times in Freedom's homeport of San Diego, most recently in February, this was the first crew swap conducted on a deployed LCS.
Cmdr. Tim Wilke, commanding officer of Freedom's "Gold" crew reminded the crew that the deployment was only successful because of the months of prior preparation each Sailor put into the mission.
"It started over a year ago with the preps, the planning, the exercises, the drills -- all the hard work that we put into maintaining the ship and learning how to operate it and get it into gear on station," he told his Sailors. "I cannot overemphasize the strategic importance of what we did on this deployment by operating forward and supporting the security strategy for our rebalance to the Asia Pacific region. Hold your heads up high. You did an outstanding job."
Cmdr. Patrick Thien, commanding Officer of Freedom's "Blue" crew congratulated the "Gold" crew on a successful deployment as well, and expressed excitement over the next five months. "Crew 101, you know what the standards are," he told his Sailors. "Let's go ahead and do it. Hit it hard, hit it fast. We'll execute, and we'll be on time, on target."
Freedom's deployment began March 1, when the ship departed San Diego and commenced a Pacific Ocean transit that included port visits in Hawaii, Guam and Manila. Since arriving in Singapore April 18, Freedom participated in the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX), two separate phases of the bilateral naval exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) with Malaysia and Singapore, and hosted thousands of visitors from throughout Southeast Asia.
For the second half of the deployment, the Blue Crew will continue to conduct port visits, exercises and exchanges with regional navies in Southeast Asia, including participation in the multi-lateral exercise Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) and additional phases of CARAT. Freedom will return to San Diego in late 2013. Fast, agile and mission-focused, littoral combat ships are designed to operate in near-shore environments and employ modular mission packages that can be configured for surface warfare, mine countermeasures, or anti-submarine warfare.