By Scott McCaffrey Sun Gazette
With less than three months to go before the commissioning of the USS Arlington, supporters are acknowledging that still-tepid economic conditions may be hampering fundraising efforts.
“We’re moving along,” said Maryellen Baldwin, executive director of the Navy League of Hampton Roads, which is working with an Arlington-based task force to raise $500,000 in support of the ship and its crew.
Baldwin traveled from Norfolk to Arlington on Jan. 8 to meet with members of the USS Arlington Commissioning Committee in preparation for the likely April 6 commissioning on the U.S. Navy’s newest ship.
Baldwin acknowledged that fundraising was not as robust as could be hoped, but said that’s not unusual at this stage of the effort.
“We will make this happen, one way or another,” she said. “We have a very strong expectation we’ll get the money we need.”
About half the $500,000 sought will go toward a “tribute” room within the ship, honoring the victims of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and the first-responders who helped save survivors and the building. The remainder will go in support of the commissioning ceremony (which by law can’t be funded by taxpayers) and in support of the more than 300 crew members.
The local commissioning commission is working to win financial support from area businesses, in partnership with the Arlington Community Foundation.
“Timing and making sure you get the right person is key,” said Jim Pebley, co-chair of the task force, encouraging members of the panel to hit the hustings in a quest for financial support.
A Jan. 31 gala at Army Navy Country Club will be among the cornerstones of the fundraising effort, but support at all financial levels is appreciated, Baldwin said.
“We take very seriously those small contributions, much as we do the larger ones,” she said.
Preliminary details about the commissioning ceremony itself are beginning to be made public, although the actual commissioning date remains subject to change until the Navy confirms it.
The commissioning ceremony will likely be held on Saturday, April 6 at an aircraft-carrier pier at the sprawling Navy complex in Hampton Roads, providing enough space to accommodate 20,000 people.
“We’ve got a lot of room,” said Pebley, a retired Navy aviator.
A public reception will be held following the ceremony, which likely will run from 1 to 2 p.m.
Additional events are scheduled for VIPs the night before and the morning of the ceremony, but Baldwin said the commissioning itself will be the cornerstone of activities.
“It will be probably one of the most impressive ceremonies you will ever see,” she said.