Sunday, July 14, 2002

The USS Paul F. Foster, a 26-year-old destroyer and one of the first warships in the Navy to be powered by gas engine turbines and generators, will be decommissioned in March. Fireman Jeffrey Falkenstein, left, who at 18 is the youngest crewman aboard the Foster, and GSM3 Brian Meyer looked over one of the ship's four jet turbines on Tuesday.

Destroyer takes
parting shots

The USS Foster will be
decommissioned next March
after 26 years of service

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Eighteen-year-old Jeffrey Falkenstein was not even born when the Navy's first "all-electric destroyer" was commissioned in February 1976.

Chief Petty Officer Rubin Gutierrez, 46, was just completing his first hitch in the Navy.

Both the oldest and the youngest members of the Spruance-class destroyer USS Paul F. Foster will be on hand next March when the 26-year-old destroyer, one of the first warships in the Navy to be powered by gas engine turbines and generators, is decommissioned. Gutierrez plans to retire from the Navy next year.

Gutierrez enlisted in 1974 in Burnet, Texas, just six months after graduating from high school.

Falkenstein had completed cutting the grass on the fourth green at a golf course in Princeton, Wis., when the events of Sept. 11 changed his life.

EMC Rubin Gutierrez, 46, the oldest crew member aboard the USS Paul F. Foster, monitored the locations of other ships in the area Tuesday. Gutierrez plans to retire from the Navy next year.

"I was just pulling my golf cart into a shed to get more gas when I got the news that terrorists had struck," said the Wisconsin native, who had graduated from high school three months earlier.

"At that point it was continue cutting grass on a golf course, or do something for my country," Falkenstein said.

He joined the Navy. "I think I made a good choice," he said.

He hopes to become a masters of arms in the Navy, noting that such law enforcement and security skills have become more critical in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

As part of its participation in this year's Rim of the Pacific exercise, the Foster and several allied warships spent most of the last 10 days off the coast of Kauai, training their missiles and large guns on three decommissioned vessels in what the Navy calls a "sinkex" (ship-sinking exercise).

Cmdr. John "Chuck" Nygaard, skipper of the 563-foot Foster, said that taking part in two ship-sinking exercises is rare.

"We do fire our two 5-inch guns a lot, but it is not often do we get the opportunity to fire at another ship," said Nygaard, 43. "It's expensive, and a lot of preparation goes into sinking."

Sent to the ocean bottom in nearly 15,000 feet of water were the supply ship USS White Plains and two frigates, USS Ratheburne and USS Harold E. Holt.

All three Vietnam-era vessels had been berthed at Pearl Harbor's mothball fleet and towed to the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai the day before the exercise.

Last year, the Ratheburne and the Holt served as backdrops and props for the filming of the movie "Pearl Harbor."

The White Plains was sunk Monday. The Holt caused a stir that same day as it was being towed up the Pearl Harbor channel because smoke was seen billowing from its deck, giving the impression that a major fire was taking place at the naval base.

Lt. j.g. Taylor Clarke, RIMPAC spokesman, said controlled fires were lit on the Holt to prepare it for Tuesday's gunnery exercise.

"Since none of the ship's systems were operational, it was necessary to 'warm up' the ship to help the infrared aiming devices that would be used in the gunnery exercise," Clarke said.

Lt. j.g. Zathan Baker, a pilot with Kaneohe Bay's HSL-37, said the exercise "gives me a real-world tactical application in a controlled environment."

Tuesday's exercise was the first time he fired a Hellfire missile slung from the side of his HB60-B helicopter. Although he has gotten a lot of practice using a dummy laser-operated missile system, "that missile never leaves the rail even after you fire it, and you never get the big bang," he said.

Working from a distance of more than three miles, one helicopter painted a target on the Holt with a laser. Within minutes, two Hellfire missiles made a direct hit on the Holt's superstructure.

Then the Foster, Crommelin and Ingraham formed a single file to prepare to fire a missile each at the Holt, nearly three miles off their starboard side. The Ingraham scored a direct hit, firing a Standard Missile 1, while the Crommelin's failed to work. The Foster hit the stern of the Holt with a smaller, defensive NATO Sparrow missile.

Then it was time for the Foster to train its two 5-inch guns on the Holt. The Foster's two deck guns can fire a projectile weighing more than 70 pounds more than nine miles.

In a July 5 gunnery exercise, the Foster's crew sank the Ratheburne using 20 rounds and scoring six direct hits, said Chief Petty Officer Ross McDonnell, the Foster's gunnery chief.

During Tuesday's exercise, McDonnell's gun crew of eight sailors fired 30 5-inch rounds, with about 75 percent of them hitting the Holt.

The Foster and its crew of 333 will spend the rest of its deployment in the western Pacific, returning to its home port in Washington's Naval Station Everett on Dec. 17 where it will begin the decommissioning process. Once taken out of service in March, the Foster will become part of the Navy's research and development program at Port Hueneme in southern California.

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