Chris Van Horne, NBC 5 Fort Worth Reporter
The U.S. Navy officially welcomed the USS Fort Worth, a littoral combat ship, into the surface fleet on Saturday.
The USS Fort Worth, the Navy’s third Littoral Combat Ship and second of the Freedom-class, was commissioned Saturday morning in Galveston.
“I hereby place United States Ship Fort Worth in commission,” said Adm. Mark Ferguson, Vice Chief of Naval Operations. “May God bless and guide this warship and all that shall sail in her.”
The Fort Worth, LCS-3, is now officially apart of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and is the first to bare the nation’s 16th largest city’s name. Rep. Kay Granger sponsored the ship and gave the signal for Fort Worth’s crew to officially come aboard.
“Officers and crew of the United States Ship Fort Worth, man your ship and bring her to life,” Rep. Granger said during the ceremony.
Granger worked on the project to get a ship named for the city, where she was once mayor, for at least the last six years. She says it was never a struggle to get the ship named for Cowtown, but that it helped to have Navy Secretary Gordon R. England’s support. England has a master’s degree from Texas Christian University. England also addressed the crowd on Saturday.
“It was just wonderful,” Rep. Granger said. “We all worked on it, the city has been so excited. With the christening a lot of people couldn’t come because it was December (2010) in Wisconsin. We have so many people here from all over Texas, primarily from Fort Worth. It’s just a wonderful, it’s a huge honor.”
The local Fort Worth Commissioning Committee anticipated more than 3,000 people would be in attendance. Despite warm temperatures and high humidity on the dock, not a single chair was empty. Boy Scouts stood on a grassy hill with others to observe the ceremony.
Elaina Rose and Melyndie Brunick both drove down from Fort Worth to watch the ceremony and take a tour of the Fort Worth.
“We just thought it would be an amazing opportunity to see this commissioning,” Rose said.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our city and our country,” Burdick said. “I just want to see how it works. I’ve seen retired ships, never seen anything of this magnitude. I understand its very state of the art.”
The Fort Worth can travel in less than 20 feet of water and reach speeds of up to 40 knots, in just 90 seconds according to Granger. The ship is designed to be an agile, maneuverable weapon in the Navy’s arsenal and to confront new challenges facing the U.S. It’s anticipated that littoral ships will assist in fighting piracy, drug trafficking and terrorism.
“The world is changing, the enemy is changing,” Granger said.
The Fort Worth only requires 40 sailors, where as it used to take 200 to accomplish the same work. The ship, with the slogan of “Grit and Tenacity”, can trade out missions and specialized personnel at a dock in relatively short order.
“It’s a very powerful idea that we’ve come up with,” said Cmdr. Randy Blankenship, leader of the ship’s blue crew. “It’s plug and play, USB kind of ship. It’s just awesome to be able to those kinds of things.”
The advanced technology and improvements made to the design following the USS Freedom mean the Fort Worth’s capabilities and operational effectiveness are still undetermined.
“It’s really remarkable, as Cmdr. Blankenship said, ‘it’s a new class of ship,’” said Cmdr. Warren Cupps, the leader of the ship’s gold crew. “We’re still learning how it will fit in the fleet. We’re at the cutting edge, trailblazing that, much like Fort Worth trail blazed the west. It’s a great honor to be able to set the standard.”
Cupps does know a thing or two about Fort Worth. In addition to visiting Cowtown several times since the ship was designated to be named after the city, Cupps was born at the now former Carswell Air Force Base.
“It’s wonderful to be able to come home to the city of my birth for a ship named for the city,” Cupps said.
City leaders are delighted at the ship’s commissioning and service too, as it will represent the city abroad.
“Port to port, people in the Far East will ask, ‘what is Fort Worth?’ And these guys will be able to tell them,” said Fort Worth city councilman and Navy veteran Dennis Shingleton.
The city also has a role to play in caring for and supporting the ship, her crew and their families. One Shingleton says is already evident.
“The support the city provides, look at the thousands of people here without invitation, showing up because it’s a Fort Worth deal,” he said.
For the sailors aboard the Fort Worth, they’ve seen that already too.
“It’s been great, I wish I could have made it to the city,” said Electronics Technician First Class Herbert Matcke. “The support we’ve received and the people we’ve met from Fort Worth have been outstanding. You couldn’t ask for a better city to be named after.”
And Fort Worth’s leaders and residents couldn’t be happier about their new ship.
“It’s just great, it’s so great,” said Rep. Granger. “Every time I say it, ‘USS Fort Worth,’ I get really excited.”
The USS Fort Worth will set sail on Monday to its homeport in San Diego, with Cmdr. Blankenship’s blue crew aboard.
Cmdr. Cupps and members of his gold crew will head to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to throw out the first pitch on Monday night.
Back home, people in Fort Worth were not left out. Hundreds watched the ceremony on a big screen set up in Sundance Square. Three generations of one family watched the commissioning together.
"We come from a long line of people who've served our country," said Fort Worth resident Winona Laughman. "We have a veteran, a future veteran, a boy scout and cub scounts and of course, Fort Worth is our city and we're so proud of it. We love our country. We love the city of Fort Worth. Fort Worth is a pioneer city and now we have a ship named after us."
NBC 5's Mark Schnyder helped contribute to this story.