Wichita and Kansas aren’t exactly known for having any seaside real estate, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus acknowledged on Wednesday.
But Kansas is known for being home to 230,000 Navy veterans.
“Your part in this partnership is so powerful in the success of Navy and Marine Corps – and it is so crucial to have that relationship,” Mabus told an audience that packed the Wichita City Council chambers for the ship-naming ceremony of the USS Wichita.
The ship building and repair industry contributes $126 million annually to Kansas’ gross domestic product.
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“When we are doing our job, we are usually a long, long way from home,” Mabus said. Having a ship named for the home cities and states “is making a connection for that very small number of Americans who serve in uniform, and particularly for those who are deployed. … Naming ships after cities and states is a reflection not just of heritage but also as an expression of gratitude for the support you give.”
The ceremony was scheduled for 10 a.m. but was delayed for nearly half an hour as local and state dignitaries gathered in the chamber, including Gov. Sam Brownback.
“This new USS Wichita, currently under construction will face new battles,” Brownback said. “Its capabilities reflect the changing nature and new challenges that we face as a society and the world faces. … These ships can protect, defend and deter but can also provide humanitarian support and emergency search and rescue missions.
“I like to think that in naming a ship, it carries and projects some of the character of the name and place it is named after. Wichita is a place of courage, heart, faith and hardworking Americans who love their families, their country and believe God has blessed America. They believe to whom much is given, much is required. May this ship be a blessing to friend and a terror to foe. May she serve well and honorably. May God bless the USS Wichita.”
The USS Wichita, a littoral combat ship, is fast and agile and built to handle both near-shore and open-ocean operations, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the city. A keel-laying ceremony for the ship took place in February in Wisconsin.
The new Wichita will be part of the Freedom class of warships. The ships are slightly smaller than the Navy’s guided-missile frigates. They can be used as a small assault transport with a flight deck and hangar space.
The Wichita will be 378 feet long and will have a top speed of more than 40 knots, according to the Navy’s website.
It is expected to be launched next year.
The ship is actually the third in 76 years to carry the name of Wichita.
The first USS Wichita, a heavy cruiser, was commissioned on Feb. 16, 1939, and decommissioned 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 decommissioned in 1993.