USS Fort Worth commissioned in Galveston

Posted Saturday, Sep. 22, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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With the command, "Man your ship, and bring her to life" this morning, Congresswoman Kay Granger officially put the cap on the commissioning of the USS Fort Worth, the Navy's next-generation of warship that promises to carry the city's namesake across the world for the next 30 years.

The ship, the third of the Navy's littoral combat ship fleet, went into service on Galveston's Pier 21, before 3,200 dignitaries, servicemen and women, and spectators who managed to find a ticket.

The Fort Worth joins Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi, other Texas cities with Navy vessels named for them. Admiral Mark Ferguson, vice chief of Naval Operations, commissioned the ship.

"May God bless and guide this warship and all who shall sail in it," Ferguson said, in officially commissioning the ship.

After a series of orders in which co-commanding officers Randy Blankenship and Warren Cupps acknowledged command of the ship, Granger spoke. After her order to man the ship, sailors, to the tune "Anchors Aweigh," ran through the crowd and up into the ship to their posts.

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who conceived the idea for the littoral combat ships as a way to combat new threats like piracy and terrorism, said the LCS is "one of the most advanced ships at sea."

"Despots and pirates will not find new lines of work simply because the USS Fort Worth finds her place in our fleet," England said.

"This is a time for 'Give 'Em Hell Harry' leadership," he said, drawing applause.

The USS Fort Worth, commissioned in Galveston at Granger's request, will sail Monday to its new home base in San Diego.

Twenty members of the ship's crew will travel to Arlington on Monday and attend the Texas Rangers game. Warren Cupps, one of the ship's two co-commanding officers, will throw out the first pitch.

Janice Gautreaux, who graduated from Fort Worth's North Side High School in 1979 and now lives in Houston, attended the ceremony with her husband and daughter and boyfriend.

"I'm just so excited, I may burst," said Gautreaux, whose grandson is a Marine.

Ruby Bressman of Fort Worth attended with her husband, Don.

"I am a proud American, I love my country, I love my state," she said. "I would not have missed this for anything. I tried to bring my grandchildren, but they could not get an excused absence. Can you believe that?"

Michael Bennett, CEO of Gideon Toal in Fort Worth, attended with his wife and three children.

"I come at this from the view of, how often do you see a ship commissioned?" said Bennett, whose 12-year-old son is a history buff. The two recently toured the Battleship Texas at San Jacinto.

"He's really into history and ships and planes and all that kind of stuff," Bennett said.

Also in the crowd was Dolores Oelfke, 77, who attended the ship's christening in frigid Wisconsin in December 2010. Oelfke's daughter, then a first-grade teacher at Benbrook Elementary School, had her students draw a picture of a USS Fort Worth. Oelfke, who knows former Deputy Defense Secretary England, sent the picture and a letter to him, asking the ship to be named for Fort Worth.

Which is better, cold Wisconsin or humid Texas, for a ship celebration, she was asked.

"It doesn't make any difference as long as it is the way it is," she said. "I'm that way about football, too."

The littoral combat ships - speedy, agile and lightweight, with interchangeable modules for missions such as anti-submarine, mine clearing, and surface warfare - are designed for use in shallow coastal waters.

The Navy has 21 under contract, split between Lockheed and General Dynamics, and says it wants to build up to 55. The ships are meant to replace certain classes of frigates, mine-countermeasures vessels, and coastal mine hunters. The Fort Worth will be Lockheed's second of the LCS vessels to be commissioned.

The Navy plans to deploy the first ship, Freedom, to Singapore next year and ultimately base four of the ships in southeast Asia, where they will be ideal in working with allies and protecting key waterways, Ferguson said. The Middle East also is a likely base for the ships, he said.

Rear Admiral James Murdoch said he is convinced the most important threat the USS Fort Worth may face is "some threat no one among us has thought of yet."

The Fort Worth, built by a team headed by Lockheed Martin, has two rotating crews of 40 apiece. Plus, at any time, it will have another 35 or so aboard connected to one of the interchangeable mission packages that are on the ship: anti-submarine, mine clearing, anti-surface warfare.

Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808; Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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