Ceremony sends frigate USS Ingraham off to retirement

EVERETT — With a bright sun overhead and cold air blowing off Puget Sound, the USS Ingraham, a guided missile frigate recently returned from a seven-month deployment, was formally decommissioned Wednesday at Naval Station Everett.

It was a moment that was bittersweet for some, including Cmdr. Daniel Straub, the ship’s commanding officer for the past year and a half.

“She was my very first command,” said Straub, who has served in the Navy for 31 years, working his way up through the enlisted ranks.

When under sail, the Ingraham (FFG-61) had a full compliment of 200 sailors and 30 officers, including two SH-60B Seahawk helicopters.

On Wednesday just a few dozen sailors stood at attention on deck while the decommissioning ceremony took place on the pier below.

When the Ingraham was commissioned in 1989, it was during the Cold War buildup of the military.

“These frigates may be small, but they are able to take a hit and keep on going,” said former Defense Secretary Robert Gates during the ceremony. “They are not being replaced due to extraordinary shortsightedness in Washington over defense budgets.”

It was that budget cutting that led to the Ingraham being decommissioned five years ahead of schedule, Straub said. There were rumors of decommissioning in the spring, but the official word didn’t come down until August that its current deployment would be its last.

In the ceremony, Straub commended the professionalism of his crew and also listed some of the Ingraham’s accomplishments, including, on its first deployment in 1991, rescuing 400 Philippine refugees from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo while en route to the Persian Gulf, and in 1999 rescuing a downed airman from the territorial waters of an unfriendly nation in the Gulf.

The Ingraham’s most recent deployment was in support of Operation Martillo, a multinational operation to combat drug trafficking in Central and South America.

The operation resulted in the capture of nine smuggling ships and the apprehension of 29 suspected smugglers, plus the seizure or disruption of 11,937 kilograms of cocaine.

The Ingraham also helped capture a submersible craft with 2,400 kilograms of cocaine on board.

“We caught it with the smugglers, with the cocaine, fully loaded and before they could scuttle it,” Straub said.

The decommissioning ceremony concluded with the officers reporting that the ship was secured, the captain ordering the crew to disembark, and the flags lowered from the mast while a band played “Taps.”

The final step was the hauling down of the commissioning pennant that flies from the mast of every warship in the Navy. The pennant was presented to Straub by Command Master Chief Dewey Torres, the highest ranking enlisted sailor on the ship.

The Ingraham was the last of 51 Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates that were built, and was given the motto “The Last and the Finest.”

The ship will now be physically decommissioned, which involves stripping it of useful materials and technology, after which it will be towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton and dismantled for scrap.

Straub is headed to San Diego next, where he will assume command of the littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), which is currently under construction and scheduled to be commissioned in January 2016. The crew of the Ingraham will be reassigned to other ships stationed in Everett or San Diego.

“That’s what makes me sad,” Straub said. “I’ve seen these sailors work together over seven and a half months of deployment.”

“They forged a lot of bonds together that you won’t find on larger vessels,” he added.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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