An icy pit stop that lasted about three months is finally over for the crew of the USS Little Rock after the ship left Montreal on Saturday to continue its journey to Naval Station Mayport.
The Navy's newest Freedom-class littoral combat ship would have arrived in Northeast Florida in January if it weren't for colder-than-normal temperatures late in December, said Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hilson, a Naval Surface Force Atlantic spokeswoman.
She said the crew has been training in Canada since the ship docked Christmas Eve, and crew members have been concentrating on readiness and certifications because any drills in open water had to be delayed until the ship could leave.
"We greatly appreciate the support and hospitality of the city of Montreal, the Montreal Port Authority and the Canadian Coast Guard," said Cmdr. Todd Peters, commanding officer of the Little Rock. "We are grateful for the opportunity to further enhance our strong partnerships."
The Little Rock was built in Marinette, Wis., and completed a series of trials in Lake Michigan before it was handed over to the Navy. The vessel was commissioned Dec. 16 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Safety was the main factor in the decision to have the Little Rock's crew wait out the Canadian winter, Hilson said. She said ice in the St. Lawrence Seaway has now melted away enough to allow a safe passage to the Atlantic Ocean.
The ship, along with its crew of about 70, will visit several ports on the way to Florida and is expected to arrive at Mayport later this month. It will be the third ship in Mayport's Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two, where the USS Milwaukee and USS Detroit have been operating since late 2016.
The Navy has two classes of littoral ships, which are designed for operations close to shore. The Freedom class ships based at Mayport resemble traditional Navy vessels with steel hulls and aluminum superstructures. The Independence class ships based in San Diego are built entirely from aluminum and have trimaran hulls.
The Mayport squadron will continue to grow by at least one ship every year for the next several years as the Navy rebuilds its presence in Northeast Florida. The base lost its last aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, about 10 years ago.
Littoral ships are much smaller than the carriers that used to be docked in the Mayport basin, so the Navy made the decision to base the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group at Mayport. It's made up of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, the amphibious transport dock USS New York and the dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry. The New York lands Marines and their equipment and supplies. The Fort McHenry launches amphibious craft and vehicles.
The Iwo Jima, which carries helicopters, is currently the largest ship based at Mayport with about 700 personnel assigned to the vessel and room to accommodate hundreds more sailors and Marines depending on the mission, according to the base.
This article is written by Joe Daraskevich from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.