USNS Apalachicola christened in Mobile


A little more than two years after former Secretary of the
Navy Richard Spencer made a surprise visit to ApalachicolaÂ’s annual
Independence Eve Celebration, to announce that a Navy ship would be named after
the city, the USNS has been christened.

In a Nov. 13 ceremony at the shipyard in Mobile, Alabama
where it was built, former Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the shipÂ’s sponsor, performed
the ceremonial bottle break over the bow of the ship, the 13th EPF (Expeditionary
Fast Transport) designed and constructed by Austal USA and the second
U.S. Navy ship to be named after the Florida coast city.

The first Navy ship named Apalachicola (YTB-767), a Natick-class large harbor tug, was also built in Mobile at Mobile Ship Repair
in 1963. The tugboat spent the majority of its service in the Puget Sound-area
providing harbor services to various ships, before it was stricken from the
Navy List in 2002. 

Apalachicola Mayor Brenda Ash gave the principal address at
the christening for the new ship, slated for delivery this summer. Austal
USA built the ship, including recent autonomous enhancements, at a cost
of about $275 million.

Attending the ceremony along with Ash were City Manager
Travis Wade. City Commissioners Anita Grove and Adriane Elliott, and former
City Commissioner Jimmy Elliott.

The ceremony, carried live online, opened with the
presentation of colors by the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 Color
Guard, out of Gulfport, Mississippi. The Navy Band Southeast struck up the
National Anthem, followed by a welcome from Rusty Murdaugh, president of Austal
USA.

“Today we celebrate the christening of the 13th EPF with an
Austal team of more than 3,000 employees,” he said. “Apalachicola’s sister
ships are successfully supporting naval commands on the US East and West
Coasts, along with forward deployments in the Middle East, Africa,
Mediterranean, South America, and Asia regions. In the coming months, this
highly complex, high-speed ship will join the others to support our great Navy.”

The audience heard remarks from Stan Kordana,
vice-president of surface systems for General Dynamics Missile Systems; Steve Cade,
executive director of Military Sealift Command; Bilyana Anderson, deputy
assistant secretary of the Navy, Ships; and Vice Admiral Del Crandall, judge
advocate general of the Navy.

Ash then offered her address, delivered crisply on the
blustery day.

“What an amazing day this is to christen Apalachicola here
on the Mobile River,” she said. “Have you ever imagined yourself living in a place
where your daily drive down the main street is so picturesque that the morning
stop at the traffic light is an endless view of GodÂ’s glory? Not only do I
imagine it, but I also live it daily.

“I see the glory of God hovering over the river of Apalachicola,”
Ash said. “This vision is so powerful, it’s a recreation of God painted in a
different style each and every day.

“It is with tremendous pride that I stand before you on
behalf of my colleagues and fellow Apalachicolians,” she continued. “I deem it
a great honor to participate in this momentous ceremony, the christening of
Apalachicola, and I extend my profound gratitude to Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the
sponsor of this grand ship.”

In addition to Murdaugh, Crandall and Anderson, Ash extended
acknowledgements to Capt. Adam Streeper, master of the new ship, along
with the future Apalachicola crew, as well as the NavyÂ’s Program
Executive Office, skilled shipbuilders, “and my fellow citizens
of Apalachicola, as well as all others that helped facilitate this momentous
event.”

Ash described how after SpencerÂ’s July 3, 2019 announcement
at Riverfront Park, “a grateful and enthusiastic town celebrated and erupted
with approval as the celebrants cheered and shouted at this remarkable news. At
that time, I was a city commissioner and I thought to myself, “what a
spectacular declaration to begin our city’s Independence Day celebration!”

Two years later, she said, “I am indeed profoundly
delighted. Standing before heroic men and women that have gallantly served our
country through wartime and peacetime, I must admit, I am still in admiration
and astonishment, yet humble and grateful of this incredible opportunity.”

Ash described how the city formerly regarded as the Oyster
Capital of the World (“which, by the way, a name we will reclaim”) is also rich
in military history. She shared how the Apalachicola Regional Airport is a
former World War II training site for Tyndall Air Force Base, and how during
the Civil War, the Apalachicola River was essential as several artillery
batteries were constructed along its coast, “with the historic Port of
Apalachicola playing a strategic role in this divisive war.”

Ash then pivoted to sharing a scene from downtown
Apalachicola in the aftermath of the Oct. 2018 Hurricane Michael. “Imagine a
complete city in total darkness. No electricity. Food is scarce. Men, women,
and children are hungry,” she said. “Imagine small businesses, restaurateurs,
neighbors, and strangers alike uniting to feed an entire city. Imagine these
individuals coming together with minimal thought to their own needs because
they are needed elsewhere. Imagine Apalachicola.

“Imagine a vessel sailing the open seas with courageous men
and women aboard. Imagine a vessel coming to the needs of many at a speed that
will reach 35 to 45 knots. Imagine a vessel that will transport and deploy
convention or special forces along with equipment and supplies. Imagine the
Apalachicola,” Ash said. “So, what does the city named Apalachicola have in
common with the ship named Apalachicola? They both serve. They both deliver.
They both assist.”

The mayor told the audience that the future of Apalachicola will
be prosperous. “I say this with unabashed certainty because of the USNS
Apalachicola, the second naval ship to be named after Apalachicola,” Ash said. “It
is gratifying to know that the history and spirit of our small port city, a
town with a strong foundation in maritime history, will continue to be
recognized and honored throughout these great United States of America and
around the world and as the Apalachicola becomes active and traveling through
our countryÂ’s waters, people desiring to know of the origin of its naming will
visit, and IÂ’m confident, all Apalachicolians will welcome them with open arms.

“God bless and protect the remarkable men and women who
serve and guard our citizenry both home and abroad,” she said in closing. “God
bless Captain Streeper and his crew, and may God bless these great United
States of America. Thank you and may God bless you all.”

In her address, Loeffler said the new ship “represents strong
beginnings,” and reminded the audience the three Southeastern states of Alabama,
Florida and Georgia, where the Apalachicola River runs through, “are home to
nearly 2.4 million veterans who have worn our national unform and bravely carried
her colors.”

Following the invocation by Navy Lt. Kenneth Slaughter,
chaplain of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11, Loeffler, Streeper and
Ash made their way to the elevated bow of the ship for the christening.

At the
same time, in a private moment at the top of the stairs, Ash, flanked by
Adriane Elliott, cracked open and hoisted a can of beer from the Oyster City
Brewing Company.