NORFOLK

The last time that the decommissioned Iowa-Class Battleship, USS Wisconsin (BB-64) raised her Mark 143 Armored-Box Launchers (ABLs) was 28 years ago during the first Gulf War. During Operation Desert Storm in January 1991, Wisconsin and her sister ship, Missouri, each unleashed a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles that wreaked havoc on Iraqi positions.

After the her decommissioning, her battery of ABLs remained closed, until a contingent of sailors and volunteers changed that.

About a dozen sailors assigned to the Dam Neck contingent of the U.S. Aegis Missile Defense System-Romania, Naval Support Activity-Hampton Roads and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth descended on one of the starboard aft launchers for a unique COMREL opportunity. Last year, Wisconsin received a set of four empty Tomahawk cruise missile tubes from Yorktown Naval Weapons Station; which sat on her aft missile deck. And before visitors descended onto the historic battleship’s decks for the day, sailors and volunteers made quick work of lifting the empty Tomahawk missile tubes into place.

Chief Jason Harberger assigned to NAVMED Portsmouth and Battleship Operations Manager, Keith Nika turned on power to the ABL’s hydraulic systems. Sailors and curious volunteers from the Hampton Roads Naval Museum watched as the doors to the starboard aft ABL were opened; and as sailors carefully lifted each empty missile tube in-place. Each empty tube weighs upwards of 400 pounds, considerably more so when loaded.

Internal hydraulics inside the ABL pulled and locked the empty missile tubes in place. Thereafter, with the front door to the launcher secured, another set of hydraulics raised the ABL skyward for the first time in 28 years. Locking braces were installed, and visitors to the historic battleship are now have a unique view of the open launcher.

This morning’s loading and lifting evolution struck a chord with newly minted Battleship Operations Manager, Keith Nitka. Nitka served aboard the Wisconsin during the first Gulf War as a Quartermaster. He recalled that “it’s a very eerie feeling, to listen to that [ABL] open up. There is a cowbell in the back that rings. I haven’t heard that since we fired them at Iraqi troops during the first gulf war.”

Martha Walker, the Battleship Wisconsin’s Curator, noted that “the addition of the Tomahawk Missile Canisters to the open box launcher on the missile deck helps complete the picture for our guests. Seeing actual historic ship hardware in its proper place adds so much to the interpretation of the ship.”

Chief Hartberger, from NAVMED Portsmouth, echoed those remarks, and noted that “basically, anything that makes the ship more original to how it was in the 90s is good by me. I’m all about doing what I can to make it more authentic.” Hartberger volunteers weekly aboard the Wisconsin, and along with sailors from area commands, contributes to her upkeep and historic interpretation for future generations of sailors and of course visitors who travel from near and far.

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