By Scott McCaffrey Arlington Sun Gazette
The soon-to-be-commissioned USS Arlington was eased into a berth at her new Norfolk home port March 22, preparing for what is expected to be a 40-year career with the U.S. Navy.
“For many sailors, this is a very emotional event,” said Navy Cmdr. Darren Nelson, who will command the USS Arlington during its initial service.
The ship, arriving from the Gulf Coast of Missisippi where it was constructed and underwent sea trials, was met not only by family members of the crew, but also a contingent from Arlington that included County Board member Libby Garvey, Treasurer Frank O’Leary, Sheriff Beth Arthur and Fire Chief Jim Schwartz, plus a delegation of 30 Arlington and Pentagon first responders.
“I guess I’ve never been prouder of our public-safety troops, my Navy and my county,” said Jim Pebley, vice chairman of the USS Arlington Commissioning Committee. “The commander of Naval Base Norfolk told me he’d never seen an arrival of a new ship this well celebrated, heartfelt and moving as this one. Everyone else I talked to agreed.” Hundreds of family members were waiting at Naval Station Norfolk’s Pier 14 when the ship pulled in.
“This homecoming’s going to be so special to us,” said Command Ombudsman Marcia Hovey as she waited for the arrival, “knowing all the hours of work and training, and the months and years of separation all our sailors and Marines have put into making her the best ship she can be.”
The eighth in the San Antonio class of landing platform docks, the 25,900-ton, 684-foot-long USS Arlington is designed to transport up to 700 Marines and their equipment to world hot-spots and on humanitarian missions. The Arlington will carry a commissioning complement of 39 officers and 375 enlisted personnel, slightly larger than its ultimate staffing.
It is one of three ships of the class to be named for communities impacted by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: The USS New York already is in service, and the USS Somerset [Pa.] is under construction in New Orleans.
The USS Arlington’s sponsor is Joyce Rumsfeld, the wife of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and could be found ferrying the injured to safety immediately following the attack.
Among those waiting at the pier as the ship cruised in was Arlington County Police Capt. Kevin Reardon, one of the first-responders at the Pentagon on 9/11 and an active participant in the USS Arlington Commissioning Committee.
“I look forward to boarding the ship I have heard so much about, and knowing what it represents,” he said as the minutes ticked down to arrival.
Arlington and Pentagon first responders “have been tremendously supportive throughout the last two years,” Nelson said. “To be able to present them their ship is an awesome occasion.”
Thousands are expected for the April 6 commissioning ceremony.
Scott McCaffrey of the Sun Gazette and U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Brown contributed to this report.