By Ken Stone and Chris Stone
After years of political battering, high-tech and high-cost littoral combat ships like the USS Omaha commissioned Saturday in San Diego are getting high marks.
So declared Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who said LCS ships coming back from their first rotations were being given “straight-A’s” by the Pacific Fleet commander.
Speaking to a reported audience of 1,200 at Broadway Pier, Spencer and others defended the LCS “system.” He said the 2,300-ton, 218-foot vessel built in Mobile, Alabama — the 11th of its kind — represents an investment in the nation.
“We are moving forward … with [the shipbuilding] industry,” he said. “We must have a relationship that has shared risks producing shared benefits. And this is an example where that has come forth in spades.”
She had a brawnier description for the $440 million ship: “badass.”
Medal of Honor winner and former Navy SEAL Bob Kerrey, the former senator and Nebraska governor, mentioned the ship’s earlier christening as a borrowing of European traditions.
The 1992 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination said one custom not observed anymore is human sacrifice — “although I have a few candidates in mind.”
But Kerrey, 74, said the Omaha provides a good-news story “at a time when so many Americans (are hearing) the siren song of cynicism … saying that the system doesn’t work.”
He said the system produced the ship, and it wasn’t easy.
“There were setbacks,” Kerrey said. “There were opponents. There were people saying that it couldn’t get done. All of the technology in this ship didn’t exist when the project began. The Navy’s needs changed, and the design had to change as a consequence.
“So if you’re looking for an example — God knows we need them — to give you confidence in our capacity to govern ourselves, this ship should give you that confidence.”
Ship Cmdr. Michael Toth of Ridgeville, Ohio, who will leads a core crew of 70 officers and enlisted personnel, called the Omaha a beautiful ship.
“She is fast and reliable,” he said of the fourth Navy vessel to be named for the largest city in Nebraska. “She is the fastest and most maneuverable warship in the Navy inventory.”
Omaha philanthropist Buffett served as honorary sponsor of the ship, a traditional role that include her giving the order to “man our ship and bring her to life.”
“You must always remember: You will never really be alone” as you carry out your duties, she told the crew and an audience including Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.
“Your fellow sailors will be with you, and I commit to you that thousands of us back in Omaha and throughout Nebraska will be with you as well — through thick and thin.”
Navy Secretary Spencer said the Omaha represents the strength and fortitude of her city and state.
“Like her namesake, USS Omaha is tough and ready. Built in America, this ship is ready to deliver the fight tonight,” he said — although the Union-Tribune reported it would undergo months of extensive outfitting and sea trials from its San Diego home port.
“For many people around the world, this will be the only thing they see of America,” Spencer said. “The Omaha and her crew will represent the United States Navy with great pride and diligence.”
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the Omaha represented the strong work ethic and friendliness of “synonymous with our nation’s Midwest.”
“Her leadership and her crew’s willingness to brave any future endeavor will keep our city and our nation safe,” Faulconer said.
In closing his brief remarks, Kerrey repeated one of the few things he says he remembers from officer candidate school. He wished the crew “fair winds and following seas.”
Designated LCS 12, the Omaha is the sixth of the Independence-variant design LCS, the Defense Department said.
“It is the fourth warship named for the Nebraska state capital. The first ship was a propeller-driven sloop-of-war,” the Pentagon said. “The second ship was a light cruiser, and the third Omaha was an attack submarine.”
Former Union-Tribune military writer Steve Liewer, now with the Omaha World-Herald, wrote how Ricketts said he was “exercising gubernatorial privilege” when he made skipper Toth and the entire crew admirals of the Nebraska Navy, “a tongue-in-cheek honor long reserved to the governor of the landlocked state.”
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