By Dave Suter Johnstown Tribune-Democrat The Cumberland Times-News
SOMERSET, Pa. — The USS Somerset is finally Pennsylvania bound. It departed Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Avondale, La., on Monday.
The $1.2 billion, 684-foot-long San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock is expected to pass through the Gulf of Mexico and along the Eastern Seaboard before reaching the commonwealth. Then, on March 1, the U.S. Navy plans to commission the vessel at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.
“The next time we hear from them, I think the ship will probably be in Philadelphia,” said Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk, a member of the USS Somerset Commissioning Committee. “That will really get the momentum building for the commissioning.”
More than 7,000 people are expected to attend the event. “The commissioning ceremony marks an important milestone in a ship’s life and completes the cycle from christening and launching to full status as a ship of the United States Navy,” said the dock’s commanding officer, Capt. Thomas L. Dearborn, in a statement released by the Navy.
“On March 1, 2014, when you hear the words ‘bring my ship to life,’ Somerset will come alive and her crew stand ready to take our place in America’s historic heritage of the sea.”
USS Somerset, which will be stationed out of San Diego, has already received several certifications, including for anti-terrorism force protection.
“The certifications grades spoke volumes for the crews’ training and preparations, yielding high scores in all areas,” said Chief Damage Controlman Brian McGowan, Somerset’s training leading chief petty officer. “Afloat Training Group Pacific gave high reviews, even going as far as saying ‘Somerset is one of the best ships on the West Coast.'”
The ship is named in honor of the county where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Along with the name, there are many other connections between the county and vessel. LPD-25’s bow stem includes steel from a dragline from which a United States flag hung near the crash site. Rooms and hallways are named after Somerset locations. Somerset-based Global/SFC Valve Corp. manufactured valves for the ship. Sugar maple, harvested from alongside U.S. Route 219, will eventually be used as flooring in an on-board museum.
“It’s going to be something that has a great connection to Somerset County,” said Vatavuk. “The ship will really connect with the people of Somerset County.”