The future USNS Harvey Milk under construction at NASSCO. Courtesy of the company

General Dynamics NASSCO laid the keel on Thursday for the future USNS Harvey Milk, the second of six vessels in the John Lewis-class of fleet replenishment oilers for the U.S. Navy.

Senator Dianne Feinstein and Paula Neira, former naval officer and Naval Academy class of 1985, the ship’s sponsors, virtually laid the keel by having their initials welded onto a steel plate by NASSCO welders at the shipyard in Barrio Logan..

The steel plate will be permanently affixed to the ship’s keel and will remain with the vessel throughout its time in service.

Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus directed the John Lewis-class of oilers be named after Americans who fought for civil and human rights. Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California. He was assassinated in 1978.

“I worked with Harvey, I know his dedication to human, civil and gay rights, and he was an exceptional figure,” said Feinstein. “I think it really is fitting and proper that this great ship be named after him.”

The 746-foot-long, 49,000-ton ship will provide logistical support for American carrier strike groups deployed around the world. Fleet oilers transfer fuel, food, spare parts and other items needed to sustain naval operations.

“The fact that we’re able to come together for this virtual ceremony is a reflection of the resilience and the dedication to mission that is characteristic of the United States Navy and our partners, the great shipbuilders at NASSCO,” said Neira.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.