Navy destroyer making call in Homer; protests planned — and panned




Somewhere in the Gulf of Alaska right now is cruising a Navy destroyer that’s named after a woman known by many as “Amazing Grace,” and the ship is heading for Homer.

[Read: Homer prepares for USS Hopper, with photos of supporters and protestors.]

In Homer, the USS Hopper will be greeted by environmental protestors, as well as military supporters, because this is America, where the military defends citizens’ right to protest and celebrate patriotism — sometimes all on the same sandy spit.

The ship will arrive in Kachemak Bay on Saturday, docking at around noon, Must Read Alaska has learned.

The destroyer and its 330-sailor crew are taking part in the Northern Edge joint military training exercise in the Gulf of Alaska and will be in port through Tuesday. Although no tours are planned, there will be activities on Saturday, such as the Navy Band Northwest Brass Quartet, a welcoming ceremony, and a greeting by Mayor Brian Zak.

A Facebook post from the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society is calling protestors to stage a demonstration at the dock where the Hopper is expected to tie up.

“This action is intended to raise awareness and speak out against the timing and location of the U.S. Navy’s upcoming ‘war games’ in the Gulf of Alaska,” according to the group, which has partnered with another environmental group, Eyak Preservation Council. Protests are planned for 1-3 pm and protesters are encouraged by the organizers to bring signs and to “be creative.”

But there are also other Homerites who are planning a far warmer welcome for the sailors and officers of Amazing Grace. Several Homer citizens are planning a barbecue for the crew of more than 300 sailors, starting at about 4 pm, according to one of the organizers, who said they wanted to welcome the military to Homer.

Photo of Navy Capt. Grace Hopper taking oath of office at White House as she is promoted to commodore in 1983. Reagan looks on.
Navy Capt. Grace Hopper takes the oath of office from Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, during White House ceremonies promoting her to commodore, Dec. 15, 1983. President Ronald Reagan is looking on. (U.S. Navy photo by Pete Souza/Released)


The Hopper is named after  Capt. Grace Hopper, who signed up to join the Navy after Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941.

Back then, the Navy had no women as commissioned officers, so Hopper was one of the early Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Services — WAVES. She was a computer programmer; she created the COBOL computer language and worked on one of the first computers while at Harvard University. She’s sometimes referred to as “Amazing Grace” or “Grandma COBOL,” a computer pioneer who brought the Navy into the digital age.

The USS Hopper is only the second Navy ship to be named after a woman from Navy ranks. Commissioned in 1996, it is a multi-mission ship with capabilities for ballistic missile defense, air defense warfare, submarine warfare, and surface warfare. Pearl Harbor is its home port.

Navy ship visits to Homer are few and far between. People traveling to the Homer area on Saturday might be able to get a glimpse of the ship as it comes into Kachemak Bay starting at about 11 am.

Another ship, the USS O’Kane, is taking part in the exercise and will be at the dock in Juneau between May 12-14. The Capital City has created an adopt-a-sailor program to provide the personnel with great local experiences, including home-cooked meals.


Northern Edge is a classified, U.S.-only exercise that tests the leading edge of what the Navy can do with technology, tactics, and procedures, sources in Washington, D.C. tell Must Read Alaska. There are no explosions — no bombs, no missiles – involved with the three ships that take part.

Approximately 15 naval gunshells are used. All are inert and nonexplosive.

“If one of these shells lands in the water and happens to hit a fish, that’s one fish. It doesn’t explode.” one source told us.

The biennial exercise is conducted in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex — which includes the Gulf of Alaska, as well as land and air within the state, according to a press release from the Alaska Command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Several commands take part, including Alaska Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. 3rd Fleet, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, U.S. Army Pacific, and others. Approximately 200 aircraft at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base will take part, along with the three Navy ships.

A handful of contracted commercial fishing boats take part in the exercise, possibly playing the role of potential threats so that military personnel can train in detection of such threats.

Northern Edge 2015 brought approximately $13 million to the state of Alaska’s economy.