Navy warship USS Momsen makes surprise visit to Homer
Anticipation on-shore is high, as a large crowd of Homer residents are gathered on a cool foggy morning, about half kids, at the Deep Sea Dock in Homer. They’re in line to tour the USS Momsen warship.
The 500-foot warship is steel gray, with a large gun on the bow, visible from shore. It’s fully armed with surface-to-air missiles, and its 300-person crew is part of the U.S. Navy’s missile defense system in the Pacific.
The USS Momsen guided-missile destroyer docked in Homer for two days last week [May 3-4].
The first night, crew were welcomed to Homer with a community hosted fish fry at the docks. The next day, the ship opened for one day of guided public tours.
After names and IDs are checked, the tour heads onboard and up to the front of the ship - the first stop is the large mounted gun.
“Alright so this is pretty much where the stuff happens when we’re in combat,” said crewmember Leo Teves, a chief ballistic specialist, and one of the tour guides.
“Our 5-inch, it can fire up to 16 to 20 rounds maximum, effective range, 15 nautical miles,” Teves said. He added it has a rate of 16 rounds per minute.
“It’s very loud when it gets fired, it shakes up the whole ship. But, this is one of our main weapons on the ship,” he said. “And of course, right behind it are our missile launchers.”
The USS Momsen is one of the Navy’s 70 Arleigh-Burke class destroyers, which specialize in combat at sea. It’s equipped with a variety of missiles, torpedoes, naval guns and automatic weapons to target aircrafts, ships, submarines and land.
Also leading the tour is Steven Hart, an information systems technician. He explained some of the missiles on the ship include SM-2 and SM-5 missiles, which can reach targets up to 90 nautical miles away.
“(The ship) contains multiple different loadouts, multiple different warheads,” Hart said. “Can’t get into details about what they have on them. We are capable of firing Tomahawk missiles as well. Multiple different variants of those, can’t get into details of those. But we are capable of launching every variant of missile, from our vertical launch system.”
A group of kids to the front of the tour survey the deck, and ask the question -
“Where are the missiles?”
“Oh they’re hidden right now,” Teves replied. “They’re in these launchers.” He points to large hatches in the deck.
The tour continues down narrow corridors to the rear of the ship, also equipped with large guns and capacity for support helicopters to land on the deck.
The USS Momsen was first deployed in 2006, and is named after the Vice Admiral Charles B. Momsen, who is credited with inventing the Momsen lung, one of the first underwater oxygen tanks used by soldiers during World War II.
The crew answers questions around the history, speed and features of the warship. But ship spokesperson and Lt. John Dannolfo would not say exactly why the vessel and crew were in Homer or in Alaska.
“So today, Liberty is our mission. Our sailors have an opportunity to explore Homer. And we're happy to be showing our ship off to the people of Homer,” he said.
Dannolfo also declined to comment on where the ship was headed next.
“Our operations up here brought us to Homer, I can’t say what we’re doing.”
He says the crew came from Everett, Wash., and it took about three days to transit the Gulf of Alaska to the Kenai Peninsula.
“The passage was very smooth. The seas were comfortable,” Dannolfo said. “They were pretty comfortable compared to what we've seen off the coast of Washington.”
The U.S. Navy is set to stage joint training exercises in the Gulf this month as part of its annual Northern Edge training activities, which typically includes up to 10,000 personnel and lasts up to three weeks.
The USS Momsen was also in the news last fall when it nearly collided with a dock landing ship, the USS Harper’s Ferry in San Diego Bay. There were no injuries or damage, and the vessels were able to maneuver past each other. A Navy investigation found it was preventable and “an accumulation of failures” but no disciplinary action was taken. A copy of the investigation can be found here.
The tour continues to the mess hall, where crew members are finishing lunch, some before departing to explore Homer.
In their down time, crewmember Steven Hart says the crew sometimes will fish off the deck, if the captain authorizes it, in international waters. He says it’s called a “steel beach picnic.”
“If there’s time, people will watch movies, or their favorite shows. Sometimes we’ll have a spades tournament, or a dominoes tournament. We’ll do bingo, stuff like that,” Hart said.
Next, the group moves to the bridge, or the command center, introduced by crewmamber Jenny Figuroa, a quartermaster, or navigation specialist.
“We don’t use paper charts anymore, they’re going out of date. So we use that screen right, which is called our voyage management system,” Figuroa said. “We have our helm changes the course of where the ship is going, our lead helm changes the speed.”
As the tour concludes, the group heads back down the narrow stairs and off the gangway back to shore. Three Navy officers armed with large machine guns race past in a small patrol boat. They wave and some people take pictures. Others chat with crew members leaving the ship to explore town, and share recommendations for favorite Homer restaurants and places to check out for their few hours on shore.