Monday, October 5, 2015         

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Happy homecoming

Family members welcome the return of the USS Chung-Hoon after more than four months away

By William Cole


The destroyer USS Chung-Hoon spent 4 1/2 months in the Pacific doing exercises with South Korea and Singapore, patrolling the South China Sea, working with the Philippine coast guard and participating in war games near Guam.

All that 15-year-old Brianne Barcelona cared about yesterday morning was that her mother, Petty Officer 1st Class Lachelle Cepeda, was home.

"Mommy!" Barcelona shouted as she wrapped herself around Cepeda.

The destroyer, named after Honolulu-born Rear Adm. Gordon Paiea Chung-Hoon, returned to Pearl Harbor with more than 250 officers and enlisted personnel.

The Hawaii-based warship participated in the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise with the Singapore navy, and then joined the USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group and South Korean vessels in a show of force against North Korea in the Sea of Japan.

The 509-foot Chung-Hoon also spent nearly three weeks in the Philippines, training with the nation's coast guard and U.S. special operations forces in what is an often overlooked part of the U.S. war on terror.

"The missions have evolved over the years, but they haven't significantly changed," said the Chung-Hoon's captain, Cmdr. Scott Erb. "The Navy has always been a forward-deployed force and we've always been focused on presence and keeping the sea lanes open."

Erb said the "maritime interdiction training" with the Philippine coast guard was a very important part of the mission "because it ties in with our counterterrorism efforts around the world."

In late June, U.S. Navy personnel taught Philippine coast guardsmen room-clearing techniques aboard the Chung-Hoon off Cagayan de Oro, on the northern coast of Mindanao.

Amy Gavin was on the pier yesterday with her two sons, ages 2 and 6, in a show of support for the returning sailors. Her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Gavin, a helicopter pilot, had flown the destroyer's SH-60 Seahawk to Kaneohe Bay earlier that morning.

"I really felt overall very safe for him on the deployment -- with the exception of the operations they did outside Korea," she said. Even though it was an exercise, "there were a couple tense days in there," she said.

Twenty ships, 200 aircraft and about 8,000 U.S. and South Korean sailors participated in the July 25-28 exercise off the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula after the South Korean warship Cheonan was sunk in March, killing 46 sailors. An international investigation found that a North Korean torpedo sunk the ship.

North Korea protested the July exercise and had threatened retaliation.

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