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Navy ship Bob Hope is in Anchorage to unload military supplies

The USNS Bob Hope is docked at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The Bob Hope is a military cargo ship. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

The late comedian Bob Hope was well known for visiting military bases around the world and his namesake ship is currently making a call on Anchorage.

The USNS Bob Hope, a vehicle cargo ship operated by the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command, recently arrived at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage to redeploy equipment and supplies to bases in Alaska. According to port records, the ship moored at around 5 a.m. on Wednesday and will depart Saturday night.

Port of Alaska Director of External Affairs Jim Jager said large military redeployments of equipment are common at the port, which is only a stone’s throw away from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

“This has been planned for months, so it’s nothing unusual,” Jager said Thursday.

On Thursday, the base posted photos of the ship unloading trucks and helicopters in Anchorage to its Facebook page.

A helicopter is unloaded from the USNS Bob Hope at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage, Alaska on Thursday, March 19, 2020. (U.S. Army Alaska photo)

U.S. Army Alaska spokesman John Pennell said the ship was returning equipment to Alaska that had been used in recent training operations Outside by the JBER-based “Spartan” brigade.

“The equipment coming in was in the Lower 48 for use during recent training events by the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division; 1-25 Assault Reconnaissance Battalion, and 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion,” Pennell said.

According to the brigade’s Facebook page, members of the 3,500-member 4/25 returned to Alaska in early February after a training mission in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

While the timing of the ship’s arrival may have made some wonder about a possible coronavirus connection, Jager said the Army regularly unloads large amounts of equipment at the port, and “if anything it just reflects our importance as a Department of Defense commercial seaport and the role we play on a day to day basis.”

Commercial shipping continues as normal at the port, and earlier this week shipping companies said freight was arriving on schedule. According to the port’s website, two large container ships -- TOTE’s North Star and the Matson Tacoma -- will arrive there Sunday.

The scale of the current redeployment is larger than average for the Army, which Jager said often will bring large equipment via large commercial ships the same way civilian freight is shipped to the state.

“We don’t get ‘grey bottoms’ all that often,” he said, using a slang term for ships run by the Military Sealift Command to transport cargo.

The Bob Hope is unloading many different kinds of equipment, including helicopters and other military vehicles. Jager said the helicopters are typically assembled at the port and flown to their home base.

“It’s safer, cheaper and more efficient to fly them away,” Jager said.

The 951-foot long ship has a crew made up of both Navy sailors and Military Sealift Command mariners. It’s the lead vessel in the Bob Hope class of ships and was named for the comedian, who frequently visited troops around the world through USO tours and often told a story about nearly crashing in an airplane while en route to a show at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage.

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