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California Releases A Final RIMPAC Roar

By JO2 Oscar Troncoso,
RIMPAC 98 Combined Information Bureau

 

 


The 16th in the biennial series of RIM OF THE PACIFIC (RIMPAC) naval exercises were held in the Hawaiian Islands from 6 July to 6 August 1998. Here sailors aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) spell out "RIMPAC 98."

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (July 21, 1998) -- The "Golden Grizzly" will is prowling across the oceans of the earth for a final time. On July 9, USS California (CGN 36) sailed into Pearl Harbor to take part in a final Rim of the Pacific exercise.

The Navyís last nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser is based in Bremerton, Wash. It will return to its homeport in Sept. following a final cruise along the Calif. coast to begin the shipís deactivation phase.

"Weíll have a deactivation ceremony in Bremerton, sort of like a decommissioning for non-nuclear ships. But weíre actually going to stay in commission well into our deactivation availability," said Capt. Steven K. Johnson the commanding officer of California from McCook, Nebraska.

Deactivation involves the removal of the nuclear core and the nuclear power plant ship. It is necessary on nuclear-powered vessels before they are decommissioned.

According to Navy officials ships with the least potential for future growth and are the least cost efficient to operate have been proposed for decommissioning. The high expense with overhauls and refueling, along with their high cost of supporting the necessary infrastructure, has made the nuclear cruisers a target for replacement.

"Like everyone else I have mixed emotions. California has been a workhorse in the surface fleet for over 24 years. It was a key element in the success of the Cold War. California was out there for many years on the front lines doing its part. Thereís still a lot of life left in this ship," Johnson said.

On September the 11,600-ton warship will embark on a farewell cruise along the coast of California.

"Weíll be going to San Diego and Alameda for a couple of weeks as a last opportunity for the state of California to see their ship," he said.

The combat vessel is home to 625 crewmembers. Californiaís sailors have mixed emotions regarding its final cruise.

"Itís a pretty good ship. But itís done, its time. Some of the newer guys will be looking forward to new adventures, but for some of the senior sailors, it may be kind of hard. Itís the end of an era," said Machinistís Mate 2nd Class Chuck Slama, 23, of Columbia Falls, Mont.

MM2 Darin Schweitzer, 23, of Tucson, Ariz., feels the "Golden Grizzly" still can roar.

"I donít see the point of why theyíre going to get rid of it. I donít see any problems with it. I think sheís been doing pretty well. Iím glad I was on this ship. Iíve been pretty impressed with the way itís operated," Schweitzer said.

California will be one of more than 50 ships from six Pacific nations attending RIMPAC 98. The purpose of the biennial exercise is to engage in joint and combined operations in real-life scenarios. The maritime exercise brings together elements from the naval forces of Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Republic of Korea and the United States.

"California has been assigned to the bilateral force, which includes units from the Japanese defense force and from the U.S. Navy. As an air warfare platform, primarily weíre involved in building an air defense team with the bilateral force to exercise procedures with our Japanese allies," Johnson said.

While Japan and the United States are bilateral force allies during RIMPAC 98, six decades ago things were dramatically different. On Sunday, December 7, 1941 the fifth California (BB 44) was in Pearl Harbor when she took three torpedo hits from Japanese planes. Four days later the California sunk to the harborís floor with only the dreadnoughtís superstructure above water.

The current "Golden Grizzly" is the sixth ship to bear the name of California.

RIMPAC 98 is the last time California can demonstrate its capacity as a ship in battle. This time around, however, Japan and the United States will be working together.

"As with everything else, the only thing that stays constant is change. California doesnít have the capabilities as some of the other ships, so itís time for her to move out of the way for the new ships," Johnson said.

Johnson feels that this grizzly, however, will always be golden as California begins a permanent hibernation.

What was RIMPAC 98?

RIMPAC 98 is a major maritime exercise bringing together the maritime forces of Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America for training operations.

More than 50 ships, 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel, including U.S. Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Soldiers and Coast Guardsmen, will be involved in this regularly scheduled exercise. RIMPAC is designed to enhance the tactical capabilities and cooperation of participating nations in various aspects of maritime operations at sea.

RIMPAC 98 is the sixteenth in a series of Pacific Naval exercises conducted annually from 1971 to 1974 and every second year since 1974. This year's exercise involves a wide variety of land- and carrier-based aircraft, amphibious and ground forces, surface combat, support and amphibious ships and submarines.

Following the exercise's tactical phase off Hawaii, units will transit to Pearl Harbor for port visits and exercise debriefs.

Here's the scenario:

The Hawaiian Islands have been split into two separate countries. "Blueland" is composed of the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Niihau and Kaula Rock, and "Orangeland" is made up of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.

A small, relatively wealthy nation, Blueland is a democracy, with an economy based primarily on tourism and international trade. It is a key Pacific Rim air-and-sea transport point. With only a National Guard and Coast Guard for protection, Blueland relies on its western allies, leaving it vulnerable to an insurgency force or civil disaster. Most of its wealth is concentrated in or near Honolulu. In the exercise it will have use of RIMPAC's one aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson.

In contrast, Orangeland is a larger, agrarian country with a weak economy heavily subsidized by its dictatorship-style of government. Its massive military force is comprised of Russian, Chinese and Western equipment and includes a large air force with strike and air-defense aircraft. Plus it boasts a medium-sized surface ship force, a large submarine force and a highly mobile medium-size army. But Orangeland's military forces suffer from a static, centralized command structure.

Also, Orangeland has purchased 10 to 15 Scud missiles from a rogue Third World nation that trains and supports Orange IRG (Island Revolutionary Guard), the primary special operations unit of the Orange military. During the exercise, Orange's greatest strength will be its five submarines -- two American, one Australian, one Japanese and one South Korean.

Historically, the area has been politically unstable because of competing desires to grab land and other economic benefits. Because the two countries share a common religion, language and heritage, Orangeland has pushed for unification. Yet Blueland citizens vehemently rejected the notion during recent elections, while Orangeland citizens overwhelmingly approved the idea. Meanwhile, a guerrilla group called the FROG (Front for Revolution Orange Guerrillas), with ties to the Orange IRG, emerged to help orchestrate an armed insurgency.

Angered by the Blue government's rejection, Orange claimed the elections were rigged, and attacked the Blue islands of Oahu and Kauai. The United Nations immediately voted for limited sanctions against Orangeland.

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