Mon, Dec 19, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Sailors proud to bring home Kidd-class destroyers

NATION'S DEFENSE At a ceremony on Saturday, sailors involved in preparing the ships for duty spoke enthusiastically of their time in the US -- despite the hard work

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwanese sailors hold up placards saying ``glory for the nation'' in Chinese in this photo taken on Oct. 29 when two decommissioned Kidd-class destroyers purchased by the government departed for Taiwan from Port Charleston, South Carolina.


"I am very proud I spent my compulsory military service in a foreign country and to have worked for the delivery of the navy's most capable vessels," said a sailor from the naval team in charge of the delivery of four Kidd-class destroyers from the US.

Over a period of 18 months, a 600-member Taiwanese crew worked at a US shipyard in South Carolina in preparation for delivery of two of four Kidds -- now designated Keelung-class destroyers -- that Taiwan purchased from the US in 2001.

The four warships have required refurbishment and maintenance in the US before being delivered to Taiwan.

"I voluntarily prolonged my compulsory military term in order to join the delivery team. I am going to finish my military service, and I will have good memories about my naval life in the US," Lin Sin-jen (林新仁) told the Taipei Times at the commissioning ceremony for the two Kidd warships at the Keelung naval base on Saturday.

Lin said the delivery team had two major missions -- to refurbish the warships and learn to operate the vessels.

"As a mechanic on the team, my job was to fix the warships, and as the US Navy merely offered some instructions, I would say most of the repairs were done by our team," Lin added.

"In order to bring forward the delivery [date] of the vessels, every day was a busy one for us, and we were happy when we had time off. We usually visited the downtown area near the shipyard when we had one day off, but the navy also arranged for us to take trips to Niagara Falls and Disneyland in Orlando," Lin added.

"The most exciting [trips] were when the navy took us to professional hockey games and Major League Baseball games," Lin said.

Lin added that most of the sailors had missed home, but were able to call their families in Taiwan, and ate Chinese food to ease some of the homesickness.

Another soldier, Chen Chun-hung (陳俊宏) told the Taipei Times about the naval training they received in the US.

"We underwent serious training by the US Navy to operate the warships. Because most of the team did not speak English and were unfamiliar with a number of the training courses, we felt a lot of pressure at the beginning, but things gradually got better," Chen said.

During the training, the navy sent back a small number of sailors who were unable to meet the requirements.

However, a tragedy occurred during the very complicated and stressful delivery work. One sailor, Wu Chin-chung (吳進忠), hanged himself aboard one of the destroyers in January. He left an e-mail to his family complaining about his extremely heavy workload, long working hours and his superiors' frequent criticisms.

Naval officials said Wu's case was an exception.

A squadron commander of the Kidd-class destroyer fleet, Rear Admiral Pu Che-chun (蒲澤春), who was in charge of the evaluation and delivery of the destroyers, told reporters that the warships had become rusty after 18 years of service the US Navy, after which they were mothballed and sat for six years, but that after an 18-month effort, the first two Kidd-class destroyers commissioned on Saturday looked like new vessels.

"Some US naval officials doubted that Taiwan's navy would be able to efficiently operate advanced warships such as the Kidd-class warships. After a number of tests by the US Navy, they gave Taiwan's navy a high evaluation," Pu said.

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