JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The United States Navy decommissioned its last Perry-class frigate, reducing the Navy's number of ships that have sunk an enemy vessel to just one. The end of the Navy's frigates marks a new era of naval warfare where ships are less likely to go to battle in the open sea.
The USS Simpson removed its weapons, covered its windows, and on Sept. 29, it lowered its flags. Now, the ship will travel to Philadelphia until a foreign nation buys it.
After 30 years of service — including an April 1988 battle when it fired missiles at and sunk an Iranian oil platform and an Iranian Navy vessel — the ship's service came to an end on Sept. 29 with a ceremony at Mayport Naval Station.
Now the only Navy ship that has sunk an enemy is the USS Constitution, which did so during the War of 1812.
About 90 percent of the Simpson's final crew will face new assignments in Jacksonville, according to the ship's final commanding officer, Commander Casey Roskelly.
"I love being out at sea," he said. "You get into the rhythm, the routine. There's just something peaceful, you know, going up on the bridge wing at 2 o'clock in the morning, and it's your own planetarium. You can just see forever. The stars are just everywhere, and then watching the sunrise and sunset. There's peace. . It's a time for self-reflection."
The Simpson was built and commissioned in the waning years of the Cold War. It searched for and escorted submarines, and it fought narcotics traffickers and pirates. Roskelly couldn't detail the ship's most recent security missions other than to say it occurred in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Navy has focused its energies on close-to-shore littoral combat ships.
"There is really no deep-water threat now," Roskelly said. "It's now in closer."
So far Pakistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey and Poland have purchased the Navy's decommissioned frigates.
The frigates aren't state-of-the-art technological wonders, but executive officer Lt. Eddie Davis said that was part of what made the ship special. He worked as chief engineer in the last deployment. Because of the ship's smaller size — it held about 230 sailors — sailors had to be able to do each others' jobs, and they got to know each other especially well.
"The guys here don't have a lot of the technology, so it's back to the basics," he said. "I relied on my guys."
He also served on a missile destroyer, and it was completely different, he said. He preferred the frigate.
"You spend more time with these sailors than you do with your own family," said Roskelly, who married a year-and-a-half ago, not long before another deployment. He joined the Navy after trying his hand at coaching football and teaching social studies.
Comissaryman Petty Officer 3rd Class Luis Delgado said the smaller ship size meant everyone knew each other by first name. And even though he was a cook, he had to know how to fight fires like everyone else. This last deployment when sailors learned about family members who died, he said, the crew encouraged each other.
The last few months, the sailors cleared and cleaned the ship. In the bridge, where the 8-million-pound ship is steered by a 3-inch wheel, one sailor scrawled a parting message on a radar screen. "I don't love you," it said.
Former sailors flew and drove from across the country to watch the ship's decommissioning.
Bruce McLaughlin drove through the night, through the rain, he said, from Little Rock, Ark. He spent five years and three cruises on the ship. He's the one who installed that missile jammer, he said as he pointed at a box on the frigate's side.
Over there, he said as he pointed at an empty spot near the front of the ship, used to be a missile launcher.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Travis Tompkins pointed out the 20 mm gatling gun — "my baby" — that was moved off the ship.
The decommission crew had to ensure the ship was water-tight before it could be towed to Philadelphia for a sale and a potential future life in another nation's navy.
About a dozen of Rear Adm. Rodger Whitten Simpson's family members also came to see the retirement of the ship named in his honor. He died 51 years ago, but his son Rodger Whitten Simpson Jr. said he was glad to see the Navy continuing to change and to commission new ships ready for modern war, and he was glad to see the honor and pomp given to the decommissioning.
"It's the way the Navy does it," he said on Sept. 29. "Just what my dad would like."
Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com