Despite snow and chilly rain, a crowd of an estimated 4,000 people watched the U.S. Navy commission the USS Anchorage during a ceremony held in the ship's namesake city Saturday morning.
"Man our ship and bring her to life!" said ship sponsor Annette Conway, wife of retired Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway, 34th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, as the crew ran up the brow and engaged all of the ship's systems.
The commissioning of the Navy's newest amphibious transport vessel culminated more than seven years of construction and development, mostly at the Huntington Ingalls Industries Shipbuilding site in Avondale, La. A San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, the USS Anchorage transports, and lands elements of a landing force for a variety of expeditionary warfare missions as well humanitarian efforts.
Gov. Sean Parnell, fresh off announcing he planned to seek another four-year term in office, was among the guests who weathered a snow storm during the ceremony. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, and Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich were also on hand to hear the keynote address by Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
"To the commander and crew of Anchorage, it's great to see you again. Last time it was in Avondale, La., near New Orleans, when I toured the ship and it was hot and muggy and 90 degrees," said Haney. "I am deeply honored to commission a United States warship named after such a wonderful city, representing great people that have a rich and vibrant culture."
Cmdr. Joel Stewart, commanding officer of the USS Anchorage, echoed Haney's sentiments.
"The ship and her crew are a testament to the pioneering spirit of the city it represents," said Stewart. "The relationship the crew forged with the shipbuilders helped create a vessel worthy of the name, and she will serve the nation for the next four decades."
Anchorage is the second ship to be named for the city. The first USS Anchorage was commissioned in 1969 and was used in the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom before being decommissioned in 2003.
"I never thought I would have found myself bringing to life a ship with this name," said Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Jacinto Ganac, who was a member of the decommissioning crew of older USS Anchorage. "It's an honor to be a member of both crews because I feel as though I am passing along a great tradition and knowledge to a newer generation that will serve us long after I leave the service."
The ceremony ended a four-day celebration in which the crew was able to interact with the city and its citizen. Waits to take part in one of the public tours sometimes extended beyond four hours. Those with patience got a first-hand view of the ship as well as the various aircraft and marine amphibious vessels on display, including an MV-22 Osprey, a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, and a landing craft air cushion.
Seaman Cruz Boseman of Anchorage said he enjoyed being able to show off the ship to his Anchorage neighbors.
"It was great timing that I was able to be selected to be a part of this crew," said Boseman, who enlisted in the Navy a year ago. "When I was in boot camp, (pre-commissioning commanding officer Capt. Brian) Quin happened to be visiting in the building where I was assigned during my training and I was excited to learn of a new ship being named after my hometown. We have a hardworking spirit in Anchorage and what's great is that is the same mentality I see every day in my shipmates. I know we'll make this city proud."
Anchorage's crew will head back to San Diego to continue preparing the final assessment from the Navy Board of Inspection and Survey that will test the effectiveness of all installed equipment and systems.
"The ceremony is a nice pause for a majority of the crew who has worked tirelessly to bring this ship to life over the past two years," said Stewart. "But we press on and are ready to execute the gold standard we established. It's the nature of our job and I'm sure the great people of Anchorage and the nation would expect nothing less."
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Aramis X. Ramirez is with USS Anchorage Public Affairs