The USS Leftwich was a Spruance class destroyer built in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was commissioned in August of 1979 and placed under the command of Al Carney. She was given the duty of transiting the Panama Canal in route to her home station of San Diego in 1979.
She stayed at this home port until she was rebased in March of 1985, when she set sail from the port and started heading across the Panama Canal again despite the threat of a hurricane. She was one of the few ships that did not anchor and set the record for fastest time going across the canal.
Action in the Pacific and Persian Gulf
The Leftwich underwent a few months of shakedown training after arriving this last time and was supervised by the Fleet Training Group. She required repairs after this training and returned to Pascagoula. In addition to the repairs, she also had a Seasparrow and Harpoon missile system installed.
In late 1982, she collided with the submarine the Thomas Edison forty miles east of Subic Bay in the Philippines. Both of the ships were damaged in the collision, and the Leftwich needed minor repairs before heading to Puget Sound to be decommissioned. Later, she sustained damage to her hull and her sonar while operating in heavy seas. In 1985 the Leftwich was moved to Pearl Harbor, which would remain her home port even as she served in the Persian Gulf.
She assisted with Operation Nimble Archer in 1987, a response to Iran’s attack on the merchant vessel Sea Isle City that was anchored off the coast of Kuwait. The Leftwich was then assigned to anti submarine duty and would even have a supporting role in Operation Desert Shield. She fired her Tomahawk cruise missiles in the war and was the first ship to conduct a wartime reload of Tomahawks. She also launched a SEAL force that captured the first Iraqi territory of the war.
The Leftwich was eventually decommissioned in 1998 and her name stricken from the Naval Register that same year. In the summer of 2003, she was sunk as a target in the Pacific Ocean. For her efforts in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, her crew was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon and the Combat Action Ribbon.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially during World War II, naval destroyers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.