The guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson returned to its homeport of San Diego on Friday as the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay prepares to depart for the Persian Gulf on Saturday amid tensions with Iran over its nuclear program.
The destroyer, the fourth named after Rear Adm. William Thomas Sampson, conducted exercises with allied navies in Southeast Asia, performed escort duties in the Suez Canal and assignments with the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, according to the U.S. Navy Third Fleet."As with every deployment, the highlight is returning home to happy, loving friends and families and a grateful nation," the commanding officer, Cmdr. Dwayne Ducommun, said prior to Friday's return. "We are truly fortunate and look forward to our next challenge."The vessel, carrying 380 officers and men, deployed from San Diego on Feb. 24. The man after whom it is named served from 1857 to 1902 and was a top commander during the Spanish-American War."I didn't expect it would ever end," one unidentified sailor told a local news station. "Just get on a routine and stay on it and it didn't seem like it would ever end -- so it doesn't seem real, but it is good to be home."The Mobile Bay, named for a civil war battle site in Alabama, will be attached to the battle group led by the Bremerton, Wash.-based aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis for the next eight months.The Stennis group, including the Mobile Bay, returned from its last deployment in February. It is redeploying four months earlier than originally planned amid a growing sense that Israel is preparing to attack suspected nuclear sites in Iran.Earlier this year, when the Stennis began its trek home by crossing the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes about 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil exports, Iranian officials warned the carrier not to return -- a reflection of the tensions between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program and the economic sanctions imposed by the West because of it.The early deployment of the Stennis group is expected to allow the U.S. Navy to maintain two carriers in the Persian Gulf.Currently, the Norfolk, Va.-based carriers Enterprise and Eisenhower are in the region. Once the Stennis arrives, the Enterprise is expected to head home for the last time. The roughly 50-year-old Enterprise is scheduled to be decommissioned on Dec. 1.