Saturday, July 18, 2009

Crew of New Multimission Destroyer Honors Namesake in Mast Stepping Ceremony

Image submitted on occasion of the Department of Navy announcement that the Navy's newest Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer will be named USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109), honoring the late Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, the first Marine awarded the Medal of Honor for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Donald C. Winter, made the announcement in Dunham’s hometown of Scio, N.Y. U.S. Navy illustration (RELEASED)

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The crew of Pre-Commissioning Unit Jason Dunham (DDG 109) conducted a mast stepping ceremony July 11 at Bath Iron Works Shipyard in Bath, Maine.

Mast stepping, or the process of putting coins in the mast of a newly constructed ship, is a tradition dating back to the ancient Greek civilization. The U.S. Navy continues the ritual to this day, and the coins now symbolize aspects of the ship's heritage and remain forever welded in the masts of today's warships.

The ship's prospective commanding officer, Cmdr. Scott Sciretta, led the ceremony and included Dan and Deb Dunham, the parents of Jason Dunham; Marine Maj. Trent A. Gibson, Dunham's former company commander; and more than 100 members of the ship's pre-commissioning crew.

"This ship represents the man who laid down his life for his fellow Marines. Remember that selfless devotion to duty as you work and live on this ship," said Gibson.

On April 14, 2004, Dunham's squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in Karabilah, Iraq, when his battalion commander's convoy was ambushed. When Dunham approached to provide fire support, an Iraqi insurgent leapt out of a vehicle and attacked Dunham. As he wrestled the insurgent to the ground, he noticed that the enemy fighter had a grenade in his hand. Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines, and when the enemy dropped the live grenade, Dunham covered it with his Kevlar helmet and threw himself on top to smother the blast. In an ultimately selfless act of courage, in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of two fellow Marines.

Dunham was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

"[When] I received a call from my detailer telling me I was being offered to take command of USS Jason Dunham, I had heard the story behind the man but didn't know the details," said Sciretta. "When I looked it up and saw the significance of the name, I told him I'd do it. And as soon as I told my wife about Jason's story and the ship, she immediately said, 'When do we start packing?'"

The ceremony ended when Sciretta, Gibson and the Dunhams placed a small package containing items such as the last letter Cpl. Dunham wrote home, a set of his dog tags, his Purple Heart and the guidon for his company into a small metal box inside of the warship's mast. Aided by a master welder, the group welded the box closed, permanently sealing the items in the mast of the ship. In addition, Dunham's dress blue uniform will be displayed in a case on the destroyer's wardroom for the crew to see.

In the spirit of its namesake, USS Jason Dunham will continue protecting America's liberty by providing a dynamic multi-mission platform to lead the Navy into the future. Utilizing a gas-turbine propulsion system, the ship can operate independently or as part of carrier strike groups, surface action groups, amphibious ready groups and underway replenishment groups. With the combination of the Aegis combat system, the vertical launching system, an advanced anti-submarine warfare system, advanced anti-aircraft missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles, the Arleigh Burke class continues the revolution at sea.

The ship is slated to be christened August 1 and commissioned in 2010.