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Star Telegram: Our ship has come in, USS Fort Worth commissioned in Galveston

September 24, 2012
Article

BY SCOTT NISHIMURA

GALVESTON -- With the words "Man your ship and bring her to life," U.S. Rep. Kay Granger put the cap on Saturday's commissioning of the USS Fort Worth, the Navy's next-generation warship that promises to carry the city's name around the world for the next 30 years.

The $480 million ship -- the third in a fleet of agile littoral combat ships designed to confront threats such as piracy and terrorism in coastal waters -- went into service on Galveston's Pier 21 before 3,200 dignitaries, service members and spectators who managed to find a ticket.

Fort Worth joins Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi as Texas cities with Navy vessels named for them.

"May God bless and guide this warship and all who shall sail in it," Adm. Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations, said in officially commissioning the ship.

After a series of orders in which co-commanding officers Randy Blankenship and Warren Cupps acknowledged command, Granger spoke.

Upon the command to man the ship, sailors, to the tune Anchors Aweigh and hoots and applause from the audience, ran through the crowd and onto the ship to their posts.

"The world's changing. Enemies are changing," Granger, R-Fort Worth, told reporters afterward, stressing the need for the LCS fleet. "Anybody who's at home watching can tell you that right now."

In 2009, Granger won a lengthy campaign to have a ship named for Fort Worth and is its sponsor.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, joined by the City Council at the commissioning, said in an interview that the crew "will stay in our prayers, whether they're patrolling the water or fighting for our freedom."

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who conceived the idea for the ships, said the LCS is "one of the most advanced ships at sea."

But he warned that it won't erase the threats it's designed to fight.

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

Fort Worth leaders marveled at the number of Cowtown people in the crowd. Mattie Parker, director of the commissioning committee, estimated that 2,000 of the 3,200 tickets distributed went to Fort Worth residents.

The support is important, because the commissioning committee, by tradition, is expected to raise money over the ship's life to help pay for improvements and assist sailors' families in need.

"We've adopted the crew; when you adopt one, you've got to support it," said Steve Murrin, the former Fort Worth councilman known for his Western visage.

After the commissioning, Murrin could be found near a pen where the Fort Worth Herd brought three longhorns, two horses and a mule named Niles for the weekend.

In the early stages of its fundraising, the nonprofit committee generated over $300,000, well more than it needed to pay for Friday night's gala reception. The Navy paid for the commissioning ceremony.

The committee continues to raise money from contributions, as well as through sales of commemorative T-shirts, coins, water bottles and other items.

An artist has also agreed to donate a percentage of sales from a limited edition of bronze statues, Parker said. Updated figures for total fundraising aren't available, she said.

The commissioning drew interest from broad quarters.

Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, who directed the committee's early fundraising before handing off his duties late last year, helped raise money for -- and attended -- the commissioning of the George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier.

"I grew up in Fort Worth. I'm a Fort Worth guy. You can't compare the two" ship-commissioning experiences, Williams said.

"This was real personal. It's one of my greatest honors ever."

Ruby Bressman of Fort Worth attended the commissioning with her husband, Don, driving into town Friday.

"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 architects in Fort Worth, attended with his wife and three children.

"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," he said.

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

Twenty members of the crew will travel to Arlington on Monday and attend the Texas Rangers game. Cupps will throw out the first pitch.

The littoral combat ships are highly automated and lightweight, with interchangeable modules for missions such as anti-submarine, mine clearing and surface warfare.

They work with two rotating crews of 40 apiece, plus 35 others for specific missions.

The total number is significantly less than on comparable ships, such as frigates.

The Navy has 21 littoral combat ships under contract, split between Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, and says it wants to build up to 55.

They are meant to replace certain frigates, mine countermeasure vessels and coastal mine hunters.

Lockheed now has two of the ships in service. General Dynamics, whose design is different, has the other one.

The Navy plans to deploy the first ship, Freedom, to Singapore next year and ultimately base four of the ships in Southeast Asia.

They will be ideal in working with allies and protecting key waterways, said Ferguson, the vice chief.

The Middle East is also a likely base for the ships, he said.