ABOARD USS GERMANTOWN, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Harper's Ferry (LSD 49) will join the Forward Deployed Navy Sept. 1, as part of the Navy's continuous effort to use available assets and improved equipment world-wide.
After an Exchange of Command ceremony at Naval Station Pearl Harbor Aug 16, Harper's Ferry will take USS Germantown's (LSD 42) place among the forward deployed amphibious force of Commander, Amphibious Group ONE. The change will become official Sept 1.
Germantown will replace Harper's Ferry under Commander, Amphibious Group THREE, and will be homeported at Naval Station San Diego, where it will undergo a $20 million overhaul.
"Germantown has had an honorable career over here," said Cmdr. Bradley Martin, Germantown's Commanding Officer. "On the one hand, I will be sorry to see Germantown go, but on the other, I think Harper's Ferry will be a great addition to the group of ships over here and will provide flexibility to the amphibious ready group (ARG)," he added.
Harper's Ferry is the first ship of the Harper's Ferry cargo variant of Landing Ship Dock (LSD) ships. Harper's Ferry cannot carry as many amphibious craft as Germantown and has only one heavy lift crane. However, the cargo variant LSD has a vehicle deck, helping to provide 20,200 square feet for transporting Marine ground vehicles, and a considerably larger ammo and cargo capacity. Harper's Ferry also boasts newer equipment throughout the ship.
"The Harper's Ferry is ten years younger," said Germantown's Command Master Chief Robert Palmer. Its mission is slightly different than Germantown's. It doesn't carry as many of the landing craft Germantown carries because its well deck is shorter, but it does carry more cargo than Germantown can," he said.
"Harper's Ferry has better communications gear," said Martin. "When Germantown is finished with all the upgrades, she will be the same as Harper's Ferry, with the exception of Harper's Ferry's cargo handling capability."
After Germantown and Harper's Ferry rendezvous in Hawaii, the ship's crews will 'trade ships' and return to their homes in Sasebo and San Diego.
"A hull swap is intended to provide relief for a ship that has been an integral asset of the Forward Deployed Naval Force (FDNF) for a number of years," said Lt. David Sasser, Germantown's hull swap coordinator. "Both Germantown and Harper's Ferry started preparations for this evolution over a year ago by reviewing previous lessons learned from prior hull swaps."
"A hull swap is the best thing we can do to maintain readiness," said Martin. "The process is designed to give the Sailors as much family stability as possible and keep crewmembers assigned to Sasebo in Sasebo instead of relocating them to San Diego. There's always a few hiccups that go with a hull swap, but we have been planning this for over a year, we've been in communication with the Harper's Ferry crew the whole time, so I think this will go well," Martin said.
After the exchange of command ceremony, each ship will conduct four days of sea trials, where each crew will take their new ship out around Pearl Harbor to make sure the crews are comfortable with their new vessels.
Germantown has had a distinguished career in Sasebo. The ship deployed on short notice for Operation Desert Fox, and was involved in numerous other deployments including emergency relief to East Timor. Earlier this year, Germantown participated in RAMEX, an exercise that involved the first ever live firing of the Rolling Airframe Missile at sea for a forward-deployed LSD. After that accomplishment, the ship paid an official visit to Iwo Jima with other ships of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces, to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Germantown has also participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, where the ship traveled to Basilan, Philippines, to ferry Marines, Seabees, and cargo.
Germantown has lived up to all expectations during her tenure on the Sasebo waterfront. As she returns home, Harper's Ferry looks to the challenges ahead. World travel, contingency response and humanitarian missions are all in a days work in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces.
For more information on USS Harper's Ferry (LSD 49), go to www.harpers-ferry.navy.mil.
For more information on USS Germantown (LSD 42), go to www.germantown.navy.mil/Main/main.