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Navy ship docked in downtown Norfolk to be commissioned this weekend

Mar 05 2020

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A commissioning ceremony is happening this weekend in downtown Norfolk for the future USS Hershel “Woody” Williams.

Military Sealift Command’s Expeditionary Sea Base ship will transfer operational control to U.S. Naval Surface Force Atlantic, and the ship will be converted from a USNS to a USS ship.

It’ll happen Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Half Moone Cruise Terminal next to Nauticus.

The ship, christened in 2017 in San Diego and launched into service in 2018, is named after Hershel “Woody” Williams, a Marine who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism at the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. He’s the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the battle.

Williams will be on hand to set the first watch, with his daughters calling for the crew to “man the ship and bring her to life,” the Navy says.

Capt. George McCarthy, who is ship’s civil service master, says Williams has already visited the vessel. The Navy is excited to welcome him back.

“I’m old enough to grow up at the knees of the World War II generation, but it’s really exciting for me to see the young sailors, to see the excitement in their faces that they have for the ceremony. They’ll be exposed to this history that is very rapidly disappearing. It’s very exciting — and possibly the last time,” he said.

Capt. David Gray, who is the incoming commanding officer, says Williams has an incredible story to tell.

Williams, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, fought at Iwo Jima. When a flamethrower was killed, he volunteered to take his place, according to Gray.

“He cleared a path that we don’t see that type of action anymore. Hopefully, we won’t but if we do, I know the Corps will be ready. The Navy will be ready,” Gray said.

What’s remarkable about the story is that Williams was able to expend the flamethrower four times. The two riflemen who were covering him were killed, according to Gray.

“I look forward to listening to him. I’m excited to see him. The crew is excited to see him,” he said.

They are also excited to show off their ship, an expeditionary sea base, which is the fourth of its class.

The crew is made up of 34 civil service mariners, who operate the ship. One hundred uniformed service members will also be stationed onboard.

“I think we’ll continue to see more because the military have a great variety of missions and we help with that,” said McCarthy.

Besides having a diverse crew, the vessel’s capabilities brings diversity to the Navy’s fleet.

“This was built so that we could put anything we wanted on it,” he said.

The Williams is designed around four core capabilities: aviation, berthing, equipment staging area, and command and control.

McCarthy says the vessel was built to commeircal standards, which will help save money, but the flight deck, naval communications center, and fuel receiving were built to military standard.

Because of automation capabliites, McCarthy says only three people are needed on the bridge while underway.

“It’s a successful model. We have a lot of experience with it. It’s very economical model because we can operate with fewer people at the same time. It’s a flexible model because its scale-able. We can bring on more civmars (civil mariners) if we need them and we can scale back relatively quickly,” he said.

It’s also an all-electric ship, which makes and uses as much electricity as needed.

Gray says the ship will deploy to the 6th Fleet later this year and will help with missions around the African coasts. He says they expect to take on Marines and who can also help with humanitarian missions.

The ship also includes a large flight deck and hanger with four aviation operating spots capable of handling MH-53E equivalent helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tiltroter aircraft.