A little more than two years after former Secretary of the
Navy Richard Spencer made a surprise visit to Apalachicola’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 ship’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 God’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 Navy’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 Spencer’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 country’s waters, people desiring to know of the origin of its naming will visit, and I’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.
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