The destroyer USS Chung-Hoon returned to Pearl Harbor on Tuesday from a five-month deployment that included aircraft carrier escort duty in the volatile South China Sea -- where a frequent sight was Chinese warships shadowing the U.S. strike group.
But the ship's going to leave again soon. Chung-Hoon sailors will get to spend about 10 days here before heading out for several weeks of Rim of the Pacific exercises.
The Chung-Hoon and its 350 sailors pulled into a Pearl Harbor that's rapidly filling with RIMPAC ships from a dozen nations for the world's largest international maritime exercise, which starts Thursday and wraps up Aug. 4.
Twenty-six nations, 45 ships, five submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel will participate in the biennial exercise mostly in and around the Hawaiian Islands but also in Southern California.
Six U.S. Navy ships were to arrive at Pearl Harbor on Tuesday, including the more than $1 billion amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego, along with nine ships from France, Chile, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan and New Zealand, the Navy said.
The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and five Chinese warships are due in today. The Stennis strike group, with the Chung-Hoon, two other guided-missile destroyers and a cruiser, crossed the international dateline into the Western Pacific on Feb. 4 and spent the majority of deployment time operating in the South China Sea.
The escort ships were part of the Great Green Fleet using alternative fuel made from 10 percent beef tallow provided from farmers in the Midwest and 90 percent marine diesel. The Navy said it was "cost competitive" with traditional fuels.
The USS Stockdale became the first ship to use the fuel blend for regular operations when it departed San Diego on Jan. 20. The other ships, Chung-Hoon included, received the biofuel from Military Sealift Command ships, the Navy said.
At least one Chinese ship tailed the Stennis daily through the South China Sea, although no hostile incidents were reported, the Associated Press reported.
"We interacted with the (People's Liberation Army Navy) a decent amount of time throughout the deployment," Chung-Hoon commanding officer Cmdr. Tom Ogden said Tuesday. "I couldn't give you necessarily a number of hours or days or minutes, whatever it might be. They are very professional. They know the laws of the sea."
The Chung-Hoon was named after Rear Adm. Gordon Paiea Chung-Hoon, born in Honolulu in 1910, who received the Navy Cross for his courage and leadership following a kamikaze attack on his ship, the USS Sigsbee, in 1945.
The destroyer operated with 10 countries and visited Japan, South Korea, Singapore and the Philippines on the just-ended deployment.
"It's an honor to go represent the United States overseas, on a destroyer, with a crew of 350 people who are giving their everything to best be ambassadors for the U.S.," Ogden said.
Christine Cook came from Ohio and was on the pier at Pearl Harbor to greet her son, Crishon "C.J." Ashby, a 19-year-old culinary specialist.
"I'm excited. I'm happy. I'm so proud of him," Cook said as the ship was tied up to the dock.
Alisha Nall waited for her husband, Joshua, a 21-year-old deck seaman.
She said it was "very nerve-wracking living in Hawaii by myself." The couple has been married for nine months, and much of that time her husband has been gone. "I'm very excited for him to be home," she said.
The Navy has even been busy on the sidelines of RIMPAC, wrapping up Tuesday the third biennial exercise Pacific Dragon with U.S., Japanese and South Korean destroyers at the Pacific Missile Range Facility off Kauai.
Pacific Dragon, focused on improving tactical and technical coordination in the detection, tracking and reporting of ballistic missile targets, was aimed at countering North Korea and its ambitious nuclear missile program.
"Pacific Dragon not only allows participants the opportunity to exercise ballistic missile defense, but it enhances the already strong relationship of all three nations participating," Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander of the U.S. Third Fleet in San Diego, said in a news release.