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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan -- The “Mighty Moo” is moving, the Navy announced Wednesday.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens is leaving the Japan-based 7th Fleet early next year for San Diego and will be replaced by the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, according to a Navy statement.
Both ships are scheduled to exchange crews and command, Navy officials said.
The Antietam’s San Diego-based crew will relinquish their ship, take command of Cowpens and then return to San Diego.
Although the two ships are similar in age, Antietam’s arrival comes as part of the service’s strategy to place its best ships and aircraft in forward-deployed locations.
“Antietam has completed its mid-life guided-missile cruiser modernization and is the most capable ship of its class,” according to the statement.
In the past year, the 7th Fleet has swapped out its older hardware for newer anti-submarine warfare helicopters, electronic warfare jets, surveillance aircraft and other assets.Those moves have come in conjunction with the "rebalancing" of the military's posture in the Pacific. The Pentagon and the Obama administration have singled out the Asia-Pacific region as their highest long-term priority.
While in Japan, Cowpens participated in the widely lauded Operation Tomodachi, which assisted Japan following last year’s devastating earthquake and the ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster.
The Cowpens made national news in January 2010 when its former commander, Capt. Holly Graf, was relieved after an Inspector General report substantiated allegations of cruelty and maltreatment directed toward her crew.
The following commander, Capt. Robert Marin, was relieved in February after an investigation found he had been having an adulterous affair.
In March, the Navy slated Cowpens for decommissioning in 2013 due to budgetary pressures, but those plans were halted after congressional objections. Navy officials in Japan referred further questions on the Cowpens’ future status to the Pentagon late Wednesday.