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Twice-Wounded Warship Arrives in San Diego

The Future USS Montgomery (LCS 8) conducted acceptance trials at sea on May 6, 2016, demonstrating the performance of its propulsion plant, ship handling, and auxiliary systems. Photo by Austal USA
The Future USS Montgomery (LCS 8) conducted acceptance trials at sea on May 6, 2016, demonstrating the performance of its propulsion plant, ship handling, and auxiliary systems. Photo by Austal USA

Despite suffering a few wounds on its voyage from Alabama, the Navy's new littoral combat ship Montgomery reached its homeport Tuesday.

"It's a really excellent crew," Navy Commodore Jordy Harrison, 47, commander of Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 1, said as he waited for the Montgomery's 71 sailors to disembark late in the afternoon. "Great teamwork, and they did a great job bringing this ship around."

Commissioned on Sept. 10 in the city of Mobile, the Independence-class Montgomery was supposed to head to San Diego shortly afterward. But three days later, seawater leaked into the warship's hydraulic cooling system. Then the ship lost one of its gas turbine engines and both port shafts.

The vessel continued under its own power to the Mayport Navy base near Jacksonville, Florida. With Hurricane Matthew bearing down on Oct. 4, however, the Navy ordered the Montgomery to ride out the storm at sea.

While under tow, a tug boat struck and cracked the ship's trimaran aluminum hull, causing a "minor seawater intrusion" that the crew patched, according to the Navy.

After the hull was mended in Mayport, the Montgomery resumed its journey to San Diego. Then on Oct. 29, the ship struck a lock wall along the Panama Canal, causing a 1 1/2 -foot crack between the ship's transom plates and port quarter, the Navy said.

Harrison said the incident remains under investigation, but that the vessel was under the control of Panamanian authorities when the mishap occurred.

The ship arrived in San Diego without further incident, following a brief stop in Manzanillo, Mexico.

The fast and nimble littoral combat ships are designed to be the pocket knives of the Navy -- able to hunt submarines, sweep for mines and insert special operations teams ashore for clandestine missions. But manufacturing flaws, maintenance troubles and leadership snafus have plagued the $35 billion program over the past decade.

The Navy relieved littoral combat ship Fort Worth's Cmdr. Michael Atwell on March 29, after the brass lost faith in his leadership. Atwell commanded the warship during a routine Jan. 12 test that triggered an engine malfunction, according to a scathing internal report the Navy released to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

On Oct. 13, the Navy removed Cmdr. Michael Wohnhaas as skipper of the littoral combat ship Freedom, following a propulsion system failure during war-games off the California coast.

On Tuesday, as the Montgomery's sailors were serenaded by a Navy band, a crowd of family members didn't focus on such problems.

"We're going to wrestle," said B.J. Cleveland, 11, as he scanned the deck of the Montgomery for his father, Culinary Specialist 1st Class Brandon Cleveland.

"He's the coach of the baseball team and we need him back."

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