USS Wichita Christened, USS Marinette Announced
The crowd attending launching ceremonies for Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) 13, the future USS Wichita, at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard on Saturday, Sept. 17, was treated to a preview public announcement by Sen. Tammy Baldwin that LCS 25, currently in the initial material procurement phase, will become the first ship in the United States Navy to be named after Marinette, the city in which it will be built.
The Witchita is the 7th LCS to be christened at the Marinette shipyard, largest ship building facility in the midwest. The USS Marinette will be the 13th.
LCS Freedom, launched into the Menominee River a decade ago, on Sept. 23, 2006, was the first ever in the swift and agile LCS class. She was built in Marinette and her crew members are currently preparing for the ship's second deployment to Southeast Asia.
The technologically advanced LCS are designed to sail in shallow coastal waters as well as on the high seas, and open concept designs can be readily transformed with a variety of mission modules.
The crowd assembled for the launch and christening of the USS Witchita on Saturday included dignitaries from all over the nation, but more importantly hundreds of the men and women who helped build it, along with their families.
With perfect aim and a strong arm, Ship Sponsor Mrs. Kate Lehrer broke the traditional bottle of champagne over the ship's bow, signaling the start of the vessel's sideways launch into the Menominee River.
Mrs. Lehrer, a noted author in her own right, has been married to legendary journalist Jim Lehrer for more than 56 years. In his brief address prior to the ceremonies Lehrer described his wife as, "the love of my life." Lehrer is a Kansas City native.
Matrons of honor were Jamie Lehrer, Lucy Lehrer and Amanda Nash, and maids of honor were Kate O'Brien and Olivia Nash. Flower girl was Elena Valente.
LCS 13 will undergo months of additional outfitting and testing at the Marinette shipyard before her delivery to the US Navy next year. She will be the third ship named the USS Witchita.
The launching ceremonies began at 10 a.m. on Saturday inside one of the massive buildings on the Marinette Marine grounds.
Joe North, Vice President of Littoral Ships and Systems for Lockheed Martin, served as master of ceremonies.
Music was provided by the Great Lakes Navy Band. Personnel from the Navy Operational Support Center of Green Bay presented the colors, and invocation was offered by Commander Tim Johns, CHC, USN.
"The christening and launch of LCS 13 marks an important step in her journey towards joining the fleet," North told the crowd. He added that the Freedom-variant LCS built in Marinette play a critical role in the US Navy's maritime security strategy.
Francesco Valente, president and CEO of the Fincantieri Marinette Marine Group, declared it was a privilege for himself and his family to be part of the ceremony, and for his company to be trusted to build the ship. "Those who receive our products are more than our customer, they are our partners," he said.
Marinette Marine has delivered four Freedom Class LCS, two are in the testing phase, four are under construction and three are in the long term acquisition phase.
Each ship is built with new innovations and effencies, Valente said.
Stephanie Hill, a Lockheed Martin vice president, declared the future USS Witchita is a fast, agile and lethal ship, and added, "is about possibilities....I see lives saved, missions completed." She said more than 100,000 people and 900 companies in 43 states worked together to bring the ship to reality.
Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, emphatically called on Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Reid Ribble to deliver a message to Congress: "We need more ships."
In her keynote address Baldwin commented that Witchita, Kansas, the 46th largest city in the United States, is about as far from any ocean as you can get on this continent.
She praised U.S. Navy Secretary John Mabus for having strengthened the Navy in so many ways. "The Navy couldn't have had a better leader or Wisconsin a better friend than John Mabus," she declared.
She then announced that next week Mabus would officially announce the name of the next LCS - the USS Marinette. "He understands what we all knew, that Marinette has a proud shipbuilding tradition and has earned this distinction," she added.
Baldwin said she worked across party lines to support the LCS program, and concluded, "Witchita is a testament to the hard work and pride that Wisconsinites bring to every job they do."
Other dignitaries attending included Marinette Marine CEO Jan Allman, Rep. Reid Ribble, Witchita Mayor Jeff Longwood, Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot, Peshtigo Mayor Cathi Malke, Menominee Mayor Jean Stegeman, Wisconsin State Representatives Jeff Mursau and John Nygren, Vice Admiral Joseph Mulloy, Rear Admiral John Nagley, two Navy veterans who served on previous USS Witchitas, and officers and crew who will eventually serve aboard the USS Witchita.
Prior to Baldwin's announcement at the launch that there will be a USS Marinette, Rep. Ribble had reported that plans were in the making to name the USS Marinette. He said since he was elected to the House in 2011, he had been pushing to get the US Navy to honor Marinette by naming an LCS after the shipbuilding community.
"Marinette's ship building industry is the pride of Wisconsin, and the construction of Littoral Combat Ships touches not only the men and women who work in the shipyard, but the whole community around Marinette. Building LCS brings billions of dollars in economic activity, and a huge amount of pride in contributing ships that are vital to our national security. Marinette has earned this honor, and I am so glad they are receiving it," Ribble declared.
Rep. John Nygren, who lives in Marinette, also expressed pleasure at the announcement that there will be a USS Marinette.
"I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the city and residents of Marinette on receiving this high honor," he declared. "Marinette's shipbuilding industry has played an integral role in the community. Through job creation and stimulating economic development, the shipbuilding industry has greatly contributed to the betterment of the surrounding areas. As a lifelong resident of Marinette, I am proud to see the hard work and dedication to the shipbuilding industry be recognized."
The USS Marinette will be the 13th LCS to be built at Marinette Marine.
Mechanical problems with three LCS have been reported in the news in recent weeks, but investigation has shown the problems were caused by errors in operations and maintenance.
Ribble said that with all the new technology there's a gap in training of crew members. "There's a technology gap there, and so they're getting their sailors up to speed, making sure that they don't have problems with these ships."
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