Two U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers departed from Naval Base San Diego Tuesday for a 7-month deployment as tearful families waved goodbye to the 600 sailors on board.
The USS Spruance and USS Decatur are headed for the western Pacific Ocean, according to the U.S. Navy's Third Fleet. They’ll meet up with USS Momsen, a Washington-based destroyer, to form a Pacific Surface Action Group (PAC SAG) under Destroyer Squadron 31.
At Tuesday's sendoff, one sailor was leaving behind his pregnant wife who was due to give birth soon. With tearful farewells, others also left behind their families.
One Navy officer said he planned to record video messages of himself reading bedtime stories and send them home to his young boys.
"What I’ll do with my boys is I’m going to videotape myself, and just kind of send them home messages on memory cards. So that’s the set up that we’re going to have for my boys and family," said Officer Lucas Riojas.
"We also have another program on the shift that I’m going to be part of. It’s called United Through Reading, so we’ll read stories and the ship will set up a camera. And you can read and send that back home, so that way they can read and follow the story along with dad as I’m gone," he added.
Although the Navy did not release details of the destroyers' mission, other ships in the fleet have been doing exercises in the South China Sea. Navy officials said tensions are growing in this region over territorial disputes for islands and fishing areas, with several countries involved.
Along with the destroyer ships, the “Devil Fish” and “Warbirds” detachments from the Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 49 will also be part of the PAC SAG.
The ships are under the Third Fleet’s command while they conduct security operations and missile defense, said Navy officials. The combined capabilities of the Third Fleet and Pacific Fleet complement each other, as two of the world’s most powerful numbered fleets. Their objective is to create more stability in the Asia Pacific.
The PAC SAG is also expected to participate in the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI), according to the Navy. This Secretary of Defense program uses assets from the Department of Defense to support its maritime law enforcement operations in Oceania.
Each ship has its own special history with the Navy. Consider the 50-foot-long USS Spruance, which last returned from deployment in April 2014. According to the navy's website, it’s named after Admiral Raymond Spruance, a cruiser division commander who led an aircraft carrier task force at the Battle of Midway during World War II.
The Defense Media Network says Adm. Spruance stepped up to the task after the regular commander Adm. William “Bull” Halsey came down with a debilitating case of severe dermatitis. Soon after, Halsey and Spruance were splitting command of the Navy’s prime carrier strike force in later battles against the Japanese in the Pacific.
Meanwhile, the USS Decatur returned from its most recent deployment in April 2013. According to US Carriers, it’s named after Stephen Decatur, who was honored for his heroic actions in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. He was promoted to Captain at sixteen, making him the youngest man in the US Navy to reach this rank.
Despite the emotional parting, USS Spruance and USS Decatur Navy families remained optimistic.
“It’s not the best situation but we’re ready for it. We’re prepared,” said Jessica Riojas, the wife of officer Riojas. “There’s always going to be a sacrifice and a price for freedom, and sometimes we sacrifice having our spouses gone. And that’s okay. That’s part of it.”