Tuesday, November 11, 2008

USS Freedom Commissioned in Milwaukee

By Chief Mass Communications Specialist Rhonda Burke

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. (NNS) -- The crew of USS Freedom (LCS 1) ushered in a new era in naval warfare, Nov. 8 as the ship was brought to life at Milwaukee's Veterans Park before a crowd of nearly 10,000.

The ship was officially placed in commission by Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter, who remarked the Navy was commissioning not just Freedom but a new class of naval war ships.

"In this platform we are making the right investments in our future security and in our prosperity," Winter said. "For those of you who will have the privilege of serving in Freedom you will play a leading role in protecting our nation's interest and in ensuring stability of the global economy. You will also be called upon to serve in a ship whose namesake defines the very aspirations of the American people and of people the world over."

Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, said Freedom will never have a more important crew than its first one, for they are the ones that set the tone and standards that will endure.

Freedom also represents a new concept in how and where the Navy is going to operate in executing the Maritime Strategy.

"USS Freedom will sail as an instrument of that strategy. Hers will be the march of the mind, with the spear and the shield, she will proclaim and insure the freedom of the seas and the freedom of the nation," Roughead said.

Freedom is an innovative combatant designed to operate quickly in shallow water environments to counter challenging threats in coastal regions, specifically mines, submarines and fast surface craft.

Following the Secretary's commissioning, the ship's two commanding officers, Cmdr. Donald Gabrielson, Blue Crew and Cmdr. Michael Doran, Gold Crew, took command, set the first watch and raised the ensign.

The first ensign flown over the ship had previously been flown over Baghdad. After its ceremonial unfurling, it was hauled down and presented to the ship's sponsor, Birgit Smith, in honor of her late husband's sacrifice in defense of freedom. Smith is the wife of Army Sgt. First Class Paul Smith, who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Clutching the American flag and flanked by the ship's two commanding officers and two senior enlisted leaders, Smith tearfully gave the order to the crew of Freedom, "man our ship and bring her to life."

For the crew, the commissioning was the culmination of three years of hard work.

"It is great to be part of a first of class new ship that is outfitted with 21st century technology," said Mineman 1st Class (SW) Jeff Steele, who has been with the crew since July 2006. "We have worked long and hard for this day and to bring her to life and go out and operate."

A fast, agile, and high-technology surface combatant, Freedom will act as a platform for launch and recovery of manned and unmanned vehicles.

Its modular design will support interchangeable mission packages, allowing the ship to be reconfigured for antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, or surface warfare missions on an as-needed basis.

The LCS will be able to swap out mission packages adapting as the tactical situation demands. These ships will also feature advanced networking capability to share tactical information with other Navy aircraft, ships, submarines and joint units.

Freedom is the first of two LCS sea frames being produced. Freedom will be manned by one of two rotational crews, blue and gold, similar to the rotational crews assigned to Trident submarines. The crews will be augmented by one of three mission package crews during focused mission assignments.

The 378-foot Freedom was constructed at Marinette Marine Corporation, Marinette, Wisc., and was the first naval vessel to be built and commissioned on the Great Lakes since World War II. She will be home ported at Naval Base San Diego, Calif., as part of the Pacific Fleet.