Friday, September 12, 2008

Navy to Decommission Tarawa After 32 Years of Honorable Service

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW) David A. Brandenburg, USS Tarawa Public Affairs

The amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1) pulls into homeport San Diego after completing its final deployment before being decommissioned. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Cale Bentley

The U.S. Navy announced that the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1) will be decommissioned March 31, 2009, at Naval Base San Diego.

Tarawa completed her 14th and final Western Pacific deployment in June and returned from her last operational exercise -- Fuerzas Aliadas Panamax 2008 in the Panama Canal zone -- to her homeport of San Diego Aug. 29.

"I think it hit heavy on the way back [to San Diego] when [the crew] realized they would not be doing this again," said Capt. Brian Luther, Tarawa's commanding officer.

Panamax was the final chapter for Tarawa, which has readily served as a key asset in the defense of the United States for 32 years.

"It's going to be tough knowing that my ship will no longer be in service," said Damage Controlman 1st Class (SW/AW) Jerry Wirth, Tarawa's damage control work center supervisor.

"Because of the ship's obvious age, it takes quite a bit of energy and personnel to maintain damage control measures to the Navy's standards. We try and exceed them. That's why the 'Big T' has been around longer than any other LHA in her class. I'm sad to see her go."

Tarawa, named in remembrance of the Battle of Tarawa that began Nov. 19, 1943 and lasted for 76 hours, was the first of the LHA class of ships and is the third to be decommissioned. During Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Tarawa played a major role.

Tarawa was also called upon to aid with humanitarian assistance operations during Sea Angel and Sea Angel II following the deadly cyclones that affected Bangladesh in 2007. These humanitarian assistance efforts were instrumental in the ship being awarded the 2007 Battle Efficiency Award.