Navy warship USS Momsen makes surprise visit to Homer

the USS Momsen in Homer
The guided-missile destroyer USS Momsen docked in Homer. (Courtesy Mackenzie McCarthy)

Anticipation ashore was high last week, as a large crowd of Homer residents — about half of them kids — gathered to greet the guided missile destroyer USS Momsen.

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 Momsen is one of four Navy warships participating in this year’s Northern Edge training exercise spanning across much of Alaska. The destroyer made a two-day Homer port call on May 3 and 4, berthing at the local Deep Sea Dock on a cool foggy morning.

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 were checked, one tour group headed aboard and up to the ship’s bow. The first stop was the large mounted 5-inch gun.

“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 (per minute), maximum effective range 15 nautical miles.”

“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,” Teves said. “And of course, right behind it are our missile launchers.”

the USS Momsen
The USS Momsen’s 5-inch deck gun (Corinne Smith/KBBI)

The 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 engage aircraft, ships, submarines and land targets.

Also leading the tour was Steven Hart, an information systems technician. He said the ship carries 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 surveyed the flat deck, and asked the question: “Where are the missiles?”

“Oh, they’re hidden right now,” Teves replied, pointing to dozens of hatches behind him — each covering a missile tube. “They’re in these launchers.”

The tour continued 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. It’s named after Vice Adm. Charles B. Momsen, inventor of the Momsen lung — one of the first underwater oxygen tanks used by soldiers during World War II.

The crew answered questions about the history, speed and features of the warship. But ship spokesperson Lt. John Dannolfo couldn’t discuss the ship’s exact movements during Northern Edge.

“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.

the USS Momsen
A patrol boat from the USS Momsen (Corinne Smith/KBBI)

He said 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 Momsen was also in the news last fall when it nearly collided in San Diego Bay with another ship now participating in Northern Edge, the dock landing ship USS Harper’s Ferry. There were no injuries or damage, and the vessels were able to maneuver past each other. A Navy investigation found the incident was preventable.

The tour continued to the mess hall where crew members were finishing lunch, some before departing to explore Homer.

two USS Momsen crewmen
Crewmembers Konton Mark and Christian Seary play a game Mark designed called “Rank Up,” a strategy game around Naval principles. (Corinne Smith/KBBI)

In their downtime, crewmember Steven Hart said the crew will sometimes fish off the deck in international waters, if the captain authorizes it. He said 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 moved to the bridge, introduced by crewmember 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 (to the) 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.”

the USS Momsen
The bridge of the USS Momsen (Corinne Smith/KBBI)

As the tour concluded, the group headed back down the narrow stairs and off the gangway back to shore. Three Navy officers armed with large machine guns raced past in a small patrol boat, waving as some people took pictures.

Others chatted with crew members leaving the ship to explore town, sharing recommendations for favorite Homer restaurants and places to check out for their few hours on shore.

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