Military force at Earle to drop sharply Navy moving one ship, pulling crew from two others at Weapons Station

Military force at Earle to drop sharply
Navy moving one ship, pulling crew from two
others at Weapons Station

It is official. Naval Weapons Station Earle’s military personnel will be reduced by nearly 43 percent this summer.

Last Friday the Navy announced that the USS Seattle, which has a crew of 536, will switch homeports and move from Earle to Norfolk, Va., in June. One month later the USS Supply with a crew of 482 will have its operations transferred from the Navy to Military Sealift Command (MSC) and have its military crew largely replaced by civilian mariners.

According to Nancy Eldridge, spokeswoman for the base, a crew of 20-30 Navy sailors will remain with the USS Supply.

In June 2002 the USS Arctic also will be transferred from the Navy to MSC and its crew of 465 also will be reduced to 20-30 Navy sailors, with the remainder of the crew being civilian mariners.

When that change takes place, roughly 1,435 of the present force of 2,379, or 60 percent of Earle’s current military personnel, will have left the base.

The USS Detroit, which has a crew of 550, will remain at Earle, which has a 346-person Shore-based military contingent.

As for speculation that the recent reassignments are precursors to the Navy closing Earle altogether, Eldridge said, "We have a continuing mission. Earle’s been here since Dec. 13, 1943, and our mission continues as an outloading facility. The station’s primary mission remains.

"We are the only facility on the East Coast that can load fast combat support logistics ships and the big deck amphibious ships in port," Eldridge added. "Our 2.9-mile pier allows us to accommodate those large ships."

The USS Seattle has been ported at Earle since 1991. It, the USS Detroit, USS Supply and USS Arctic were preceded at Earle by the USS Surabachi, the USS Nitro and the USS Butte. Those ships were smaller than those currently based at Earle.

Reps. Frank Pallone (D-6th) and Rush Holt (D-12th) fought to have all four of the current ships remain at Earle and remain under the jurisdiction of the Navy.

While Holt and Pallone were assured by the Navy that the decision to move the USS Seattle would have no long-term impact on Earle’s viability, "the fact that the secretary (of the Navy) did not decide to move both ships to Virginia, as had been proposed by the Navy, shows the validity of our arguments," a released statement from Holt read. "The decision to transfer one of the ships … is illogical, arbitrary and clearly flies in the face of the facts. Splitting the two ships is likely to cost the Navy more, not save them money," read the release.

According to past interviews with Pallone, homeporting the ships in Norfolk would cause the ships to travel in circles because they’d still have to load up with supplies at Earle and then move on to their destinations to drop off supplies at sea.

— Lindsey Siegle