ABOARD USS LASSEN, At Sea (NNS) -- A little more than two years ago, USS Lassen (DDG 82) sat freshly painted and sparkling new in Tampa, Fla., where she was commissioned into active service April 21, 2001.
Now, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, on her first deployment, operates with the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Strike Group in the Western Pacific.
To progress from the infancy of precommissioning to an active participant in the strike group was no small undertaking, said Lassen Commanding Officer Cmdr. Hugh Wetherald.
"It's something that, unless you do it, you have no idea how hard it is," Wetherald said. "Any ship who's done more than one deployment ... you have petty officers and officers who were there the last time. With a 'pre-comm,' no one was here the last time, so you don't have that fundamental experience."
Although most of the senior leadership had prior sea-duty experience, none of them could say they had previously deployed aboard Lassen.
"When you don't have procedures, you have to write them all from scratch," said Wetherald. "We had to stay focused to make sure we learned from all of our mistakes. We had to buckle down and work really hard."
In the beginning of their deployment, operations with the strike group posed complications and confusion for the rookie destroyer. But during Exercise Tandem Thrust 2003, Lassen showed that her potential was only hindered by lack of experience - a condition inherent in a newly commissioned ship.
"Literally, when we left Hawaii, we were still trying to communicate. We were taking baby steps. None of us, as a team, had ever done it as the alternate air warfare commander," said Wetherald. "But we developed a team that performed superbly for long periods of time. As a destroyer, I think we held our own, and that's a huge leap for us. It's a highlight of the deployment."
The role of alternate air warfare commander is a designated authority from the strike group's Composite Warfare Commander (CWC). Typically stationed aboard a carrier, the CWC is responsible for tactical operations, but can designate subordinate and alternate warfare commanders in the areas of air, surface, undersea, strike and electronic warfare.
Ticonderoga-class cruisers, like fellow strike group warship, USS Antietam (CG 54), are often designated the air warfare commander, because of their Aegis weapons system and specially designed combat information center. Because Antietam is the sole cruiser within the strike group, and because Lassen is equipped with Aegis, the destroyer quickly became what Wetherald nicknamed a "pocket cruiser," filling in for Antietam and proving Lassen's value within the strike group as an alternate air warfare commander.
"We perform a multitude of tasks that make a (strike) group what it is," said Wetherald. "Whether it's plane guard or escort duties, we're a ship that can go anywhere and do anything that is asked of us, and we do it with flare."
The hard work of the crew not only became the heartbeat of a destroyer capable of pulling its weight in a strike group, but it also bonded the crew of nearly 400 Sailors.
"They have been through a lot," said Command Master Chief (SW) David Kenneweg. "They're a tight bunch, I believe, because of all the hard work they put into bringing this ship to life."
Acording to Wetherald, a cohesive crew is the vital ingredient to the ship's success. "It's all about the Sailors," he said. "They make or break the ship."
Lassen and crew have sailed through the half-way point of their maiden deployment, living the initial tale in Lassen's legacy -- one that Wetherald couldn't be happier with.
"There's a lot of competition with destroyers and cruisers. You always want to be the 'king of the waterfront' - the one who's always doing things right. This is our maiden voyage, and we already have a bridgewing full of departmental awards. We're setting a reputation for ourselves. When we go back to San Diego, we have that reputation the Lassen is a ship to be reckoned with."
Until its projected homecoming from deployment in early November, Lassen will continue to steam the Western Pacific with the Carl Vinson Strike Group as part of America's standing commitment to maintain peace and stability in cooperation with allies and friends in the region.
For related news, visit the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn70.