The Navy cruiser Leyte Gulf completed its final deployment late last week.

The 36-year-old ship left Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, on Jan. 28 for a cruise in the waters of U.S. 4th Fleet and returned to Norfolk on Friday, according to a Navy release.

Named after the legendary World War II Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Sea in 1944, Leyte Gulf was built in 1985 and commissioned in 1987.

“This ship is full of history,” Capt. Nathan Diaz, Leyte Gulf’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “Each period brings its own far-off journeys, along with generations of sailors who have manned the helm.”

“Our last deployment was full of sailors who made their own mark on the story of this great warship.”

Leyte Gulf’s final deployment comes as the Navy and Congress continue to disagree as to the pace of retirement for the aging cruiser fleet.

Navy leaders want to retire the ships as soon as possible in the next few years to free up money for new ships and maintenance, even as billions have been sunk into cruiser modernization efforts in the past decade, with mixed results.

Lawmakers on the committees that decide on Navy shipbuilding counter that the cruisers should be kept in service as long as possible to prevent any capability gap.

But far from these high-level discussions, the men and women of the Leyte Gulf took the cruiser on one last deployment, where the ships generally built for ballistic missile defense took on drug interdiction missions with their Coast Guard partners.

The Leyte Gulf team at one point seized a drug smuggling submarine carrying 5,224 pounds of “illicit drugs” that were sent to the briny depths during a sinking exercise, and 15 drug traffickers were nabbed during such operations.

“This is a profound final chapter for one of the Navy’s finest ships, and their crew should be proud of all they accomplished,” U.S. 2nd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Doug Perry said in a statement.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at

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