Weekly Feature

2017-12-20 / Editorials

Emotional moments crown USS Little Rock commissioning

Managing Editor

The words were simple but historically stirring for the 8,500 individuals gathered Saturday at Canalside for the commissioning of the USS Little Rock.

Near the end of the 75-minute ceremony, Janée L. Bonner, designated as sponsor of the ship, stepped to the microphone at the podium after being introduced by Cmdr. Todd Peters.

“Officers and crew of USS Little Rock, man our ship and bring her to life,” she said.

At that, the Navy Band broke into “Anchors Aweigh,” and something simply amazing unfolded before our eyes. One by one, with a distance of about 10 feet between them, the men and women of the crew ran – yes, ran – to the ship and clomped up the metal ramps leading to her deck. Then they lined the railing of the entire length of the ship, sending shivers of pride through the Canalside crowd.

The U.S. Navy has followed the tradition of commissioning a new ship since Alfred, the first ship of the Continental Navy, was put into service at Philadelphia in 1775. Saturday was the first time in the Navy’s 242 years that a new ship entered the fleet beside the original ship of the same name, berthed at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.

This will likely never happen again in the Queen City.

“Make no mistake, the world will be a safer place – and freedom will be extended to those who have only dreamed of it – due in no small part to the service of this great ship as well as the sacrifice of all the men and women who will one day call her home,” Bonner wrote in the event’s glossy, commemorative program.

“Just as the original mission of the USS Little Rock evolved in a changing world during the last century, we are confident that this newest member of today’s Navy will perform admirably in its work against the challenges and threats that face us in the 21st century.”

Peters gave appropriate credit to his crew, stating, “Great ships are made great by the men that man them.” The excitement of the day almost made me forget that this imposing gray vessel is a warship, not a pleasure craft or a simulator.

“No matter how beautiful, capable or complex a ship is, systems, sensors and weapons alone do not win battles. The difference between success and failure is the tactical prowess, technical capabilities and fighting spirit of our sailors,” he added.

I was fortunate enough to go on a media tour two days prior to the commissioning. The sophisticated technology and well-designed interior are in stark contrast to the original USS Little Rock. The Mission Control Room of the post-World War II era would be swarming with 20 or more sailors. The modern ship’s room is staffed with four or five.

The entire crew of the 387-foot ship consists of 12 officers and 59 enlisted men and women. That statistic reveals how well trained and disciplined they are. It’s serious business being conducted efficiently and professionally on all levels.

The commissioning came to an emotional conclusion when the benediction was given. In the background, the Navy Band played the “Navy Hymn” in muted tones.

“Eternal Father, strong to save,

“Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,

“Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep

“Its own appointed limits keep;

“Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,

“For those in peril on the sea!”

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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