The crew of US Navy Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) decommissioned their ship in a ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk on August 4.
The event comes just months before the ship’s 29th commissioning anniversary.
The ceremony marks the first of five cruisers set to be decommissioned this year. Inactivation is a normal part of a warship’s lifecycle. After decommissioning, the ship is slated to be towed Oct. 11 to the Navy’s Inactive Ship’s facility in Philadelphia, Pa., where it will be in a Logistical Support Asset status.
“In 1993, every officer, every chief, every sailor wanted to be on an Aegis cruiser,” said Capt. Constantine Xefteris, Vella Gulf’s first commanding officer. “It was the finest, most lethal ship in the world. Aegis cruisers set the standard for performance and everyone knew it.”
Following several Xefteris sea stories illuminating the ship’s early days, Rear Adm. Brendan McLane, commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic, lauded the crews, both current and former, for their hard work, dedication and setting the standard over the years.
“In 2020 the Vella Gulf crew completed perhaps the most challenging deployment of the ship’s career, deploying to the Middle East and Europe with the USS Eisenhower Strike Group during Covid,” said McLane.
“The crew spent 205 days underway,” he continued. “Vella Gulf’s crew proved their mettle on that deployment, embodying self-sufficiency, grit and warrior toughness by staying on station, despite the immense challenges. Nobody came out. Nobody left.
“As we enter an era of strategic competition, the example and lessons of Vella Gulf will guide us in meeting the challenges.”
Vella Gulf’s current commanding officer, Capt. Mike P. Desmond, spoke of the powerful bond between sailors and their ships and the lives forged aboard. His words resonated with the audience as they bade farewell to the cruiser.
“Decommissioning conjures up a broad spectrum of emotions, as different as the backgrounds of the Sailors who have called Vella Gulf home away from home,” said Desmond. “Vella Gulf was as temperamental as can be, but when all systems were operating as designed, she was perhaps the most reliable, capable and lethal warship on the planet.”
Vella Gulf was built at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., and commissioned in Norfolk, Va., Sept. 18, 1993.
The ship was named in commemoration of the World War II Battle of Vella Gulf, which was fought in the area surrounding the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean from Aug. 6-7, 1943. The battle saw six American destroyers successfully disrupt the Imperial Japanese Navy’s supply lines without taking a single casualty or damage from enemy fire. It was a decisive victory for the United States.
The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser is the second US Navy warship to be named for the battle following the Commencement Bay-class escort carrier USS Vella Gulf (CVE 111). The first Vella Gulf was commissioned on April 9, 1945 and with the war over, the ship decommissioned on Aug. 9, 1946.
Over its 29 years of service, the cruiser has been an important part of America’s national defense strategy.
In 1999, the crew participated in NATO strikes against Serbia in an effort to stop government-sanctioned human rights abuses against ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo region.
In 2001, Vella Gulf answered the call, taking part in the national effort to provide homeland defense for the country’s northeastern region immediately following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The crew supported air traffic control efforts as the air defense commander, controlling protocols for an area spanning from Boston to Washington D.C.
In 2009, the ship led a task force responsible for curbing anti-piracy efforts off the Horn of Africa. During its mission, CG 72 responded to a distress call from the merchant vessel Polaris, a 420-foot tanker that was under attack. Vella Gulf’s intervention led to the pirates arrest and made the region safer for shipping.
In 2017, the Vella Gulf joined Carrier Strike Group 11. During its assignment, it supported strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.