Don’t be surprised if you run into a crew member of the USS Wichita this week.
Some of the crew from one of the U.S. Navy’s newest littoral combat ships are in town for a five-day visit.
“I’m honored and privileged to represent USS Wichita, LCS13 as the captain,” said Cmdr. Robert Dunlao, the Wichita’s commanding officer. “This is a very special opportunity, and I’m just thrilled.”
During the Wichita visit, the sailors will take a walking tour downtown with Mayor Jeff Longwell, will mingle at Tuesdays on the Terrace at Botanica, will explore the Sedgwick County Zoo, will attend a Wichita Wingnuts game, will climb a rock wall with campers at YMCA Camp Hyde, will interact with children at the Boys & Girls Club and will ride horses with veterans at Cloud 9 Therapeutic Equine Foundation.
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The USS Wichita is the third vessel in 77 years to carry the Wichita name.
The first USS Wichita, a heavy cruiser, was commissioned on Feb. 16, 1939, and was de-commissioned in 1947. It was awarded 13 battle stars for service during World War II.
In 1968, another vessel was named the Wichita. It was an auxiliary replenishment oiler and served for 24 years. It earned four battle stars in Vietnam and was de-commissioned in 1993.
Last fall, the current USS Wichita was launched into the Menominee River at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin.
The Wichita is 378 feet long and will have a top speed of more than 40 knots, according to the Navy’s website.
Navy tradition holds that sailors connect personally with the community in the ship’s namesake city. The captain will designate an area aboard ship where photos, mementos and a flag from the namesake city will be displayed.
Last fall, a Wichita delegation, including Longwell, attended the ship’s launching.
Dumlao will brief the Wichita Rotary Club this week about the ship’s progress. Joining him will be recently retired Rear Adm. Jeffrey Penfield, who graduated from Derby High School in 1977 while his father was stationed at McConnell Air Force Base.
The crew will also be introduced this week to local media at City Hall.
“We can’t wait to see Wichita and meet the community,” said Lt. Tracey Bruce. She’s an engineer, serving as ship’s liaison/public affairs officer for the trip and the only woman in the group of seven crew members visiting Wichita.
“We are especially looking forward to the downtown walking tour with Mayor Longwell on Wednesday,” she said.
She is also looking forward to the chance to ride a horse later in the week.
“I grew up with horses, so I’m excited about riding with Vet to Vet at Cloud 9.”
The USS Wichita features a steel monohull with a draft of only 13.5 feet, allowing access to more ports and locations than other ship configurations.
The commissioning of the ship will be sometime in 2019.