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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Last Pearl ship returns from Iraq duty

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The crew of the USS O'Kane was happy to come home yesterday after being deployed in January, six months earlier than scheduled.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The USS O'Kane, the last of Pearl Harbor's ships returning from combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom, came home yesterday to hundreds of waiting family members, a brass band, hula dancers and, appropriate for a ship nicknamed "Fighting Irish," a bagpiper who played "Wearing of the Green."

"Oh my God, it's great, awesome (to be back)," said a beaming Mayra Kohlmann, 23, a 2nd class electronic warfare operator after she got a bear hug from husband Marcus that lifted her off her feet.

The guided missile destroyer was tasked in January six months ahead of its scheduled deployment to augment other forces in the Persian Gulf region.

O'Kane fired 19 Tomahawk cruise missiles, saw duty in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, and operated with four carrier battle groups, five destroyer squadrons and three coalition task forces.

"We didn't know when we were going to come back," Kohlmann said. "It was like, OK, (the major fighting) is over, are we going to stay here, are we going to come back?"

Fortunately for the 30 officers and 205 enlisted personnel, it was "come back" after six months duty — unlike the Pearl Harbor destroyer Paul Hamilton and frigate Reuben James, which spent nearly nine months on extended duty before returning in late April as part of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier battle group.

The Paul Hamilton and four Pearl Harbor submarines — the Key West, Columbia, Cheyenne and Louisville — also fired Tomahawks in the early stages of the war. The Key West, the last of the four subs to return, pulled back into port Thursday.

The USS Nimitz carrier battle group, with the Pearl-based cruiser Chosin along, relieved the Lincoln in the Persian Gulf.

"The Pearl Harbor ships performer superbly," said Capt. Phil Greene, commander of Destroyer Squadron 31, including six destroyers and frigates.

"They were substantial players in the Iraqi Freedom conflict, and I think all of us who live here in Hawai'i have got to be proud of the ships that represent us," Greene said.

Claire Viland, 7, just wanted her dad home.

"I'm so happy. Can we go on now? Can we go on now? Can we go on now?" the daughter of O'Kane commanding officer Cmdr. Michael Viland repeated as the ship tied up to the dock.

Viland said the O'Kane "blistered" over to Southwest Asia and fired Tomahawks from the Red Sea, then transited to the northern Arabian Gulf and after the end of major fighting, served as a coast guard so that humanitarian aid got through to the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasar. The O'Kane also performed ship interdiction duties. Later stops included Sri Lanka, Fiji and Australia.

Shannon Scott said she went through terror, labor and delivery while her husband, James, a gas turbine mechanic 2nd class on the O'Kane, was gone. He deployed when she was about five months pregnant. Their daughter, Kayla, was born on June 15 — Father's Day.

"I was afraid at first, but our Navy and military are awesome, so worry turned to confidence," she said.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.