USS Wichita to be commissioned Saturday

The commissioning ceremony for the USS Wichita, a Freedom-class littoral combat ship named for the Air Capital city, will be held in Mayport, Fla., on Saturday, and among the ship’s crew will be a couple of local faces.

Chief Petty Officers, Isaac Davis and Brian Tanner, will be serving on a ship named after the same place they came from.

Davis is a 1993 graduate of Wichita Heights High School and will serve as an operations specialist aboard the ship, where he will work as a combat air controller, navigation and plotting specialist and warfare operator.

“Living in my hometown taught me the importance of respect,” Davis said of Wichita in a news release from Navy Outreach. “You work with a lot of sailors from different ranks and backgrounds, so it’s important to be a team player in order to complete the mission.”

Tanner graduated from Derby High School in 2001 and will serve an information systems technician responsible for voice and data communications aboard the ship.

“I love the fact I am serving on a ship that bares the same name as the area where I grew up,” Tanner said in a news release. “It really gives you a sense of pride.”

The USS Wichita recently completed its acceptance trials in July of 2018, and once the ship is commissioned it will officially become an active duty ship.

Jeffrey Penfield, retired Navy rear admiral and chairman of the USS Wichita Commissioning Committee, said commissioning is the last in series of three big events in a ship’s life before it goes out to sea: The first is the laying of the keel, where a ship formally begins construction, and the second is the christening, where a ship is put into the water for the first time.

“Commissioning is really about bringing the ship to life,” Penfield said. “The moment the event is complete, the ship is now ready for the Navy to receive it. It can go out to sea the moment after the commissioning.”

The USS Wichita will likely spend most of its time sailing the Atlantic Ocean, including the Mediterranean Sea, Penfield said. It’s home port will be the Naval Station in Mayport, Florida.

The littoral combat ship’s smaller design, he said, will allow it to cruise shallower waters that other ships can’t get to. The USS Wichita can conduct minesweeping, anti-submarine and drug trafficking surveillance operations, and it can provide humanitarian support. It’s 378 feet long, 57 feet wide and can travel at a speed of more than 45 knots, or nearly 52 miles per hour. It will have a core crew of about 70.

So, why name a naval ship after a landlocked city in the middle of the contiguous United States?

Penfield said it’s because of Wichita’s contribution to the efforts of the Department of Defense and the city’s status as the Air Capital of the World.

“Wichita has, for generations, been recognized as a strong contributor to the department, and this is the Navy’s way of recognizing the city for those generations of contribution,” Penfield said.

The littoral combat ship is the third naval vessel named after Wichita. The first was a heavy cruiser commissioned in 1939, and the second was a replenishment oiler commissioned in 1969.

Penfield himself is a Derby High School and Wichita State University graduate, and he said the commissioning committee wants to create “an enduring relationship” between the ship’s crew and the city of Wichita.

With the name “Wichita” sewn into their right sleeve and printed in big letters on the back of their ship, Penfield said he hopes the sailors aboard the ship think of the city fondly.

“Every time they sail into harm’s way, they’re doing it for the nation. But we also want to instill that spirit that they’re also doing it for the 300,000 citizens of Wichita,” he said. “We want these sailors on board to feel special--that they are part of the Wichita, Kansas, family.”

The commissioning ceremony begins at 9 a.m central time. The Navy will provide live coverage of the event at http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/live/ah-live.asp