The commissioning ceremony for the U.S. Navy’s newest aviation-centric Amphibious Assault Ship, USS Tripoli, will be held in Pensacola next year.
A local group is now working to plan the commissioning activities and raise the funds to pay for them.
The future USS Tripoli (LHA 7) is the third U.S. Navy vessel to be named in honor of the historic land-sea military operation against Derna during the 1805 war between the U.S. and the Barbery state of Tripoli. The battle was made famous in the official hymn of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Tripoli is also a member of the first class of ships designed to support the new F-35B Lightning II.
“It is an LHA, basically a small aircraft carrier,” said retired Rear Admiral Don Quinn, a former naval aviator and chair of the USS Tripoli Commissioning Committee. “She’s about the same size as the USS Lexington, 850 feet long and a crew of just over a thousand.”
The ship is currently about two-thirds of the way through the process from construction to activation into service.
“Initially, the Secretary of the Navy picks the name for the ship, picks a sponsor; in this case it’s Mrs. Lynn Mabus, wife of the former Secretary of the Navy,” Quinn explained. From there, “The ship is built, the crew starts coming in, and then you get to the point where the Sec. of the Navy decides on where to commission the ship. We got wind of the opportunity, threw our hat in the ring and offered to do it here. And, thankfully, the Secretary of the Navy chose us.”
This will be Pensacola’s sixth commissioning ceremony dating back to the USS Mitscher in 1994. The USS Bonhomme Richard was commissioned here in 1998, USS Iwo Jima in 2001, USS Forrest Sherman in 2006, and, most recently, the Pensacola group organized the 2011 commissioning of the USS William P. Lawrence. However, the actual ceremony for that last ship was held in Mobile.
Admiral Quinn says experience was one of the factors that helped Pensacola secure the bid.
“Number one is the community, community support for the commissioning,” Quinn pointed out. “Because there is fundraising and you want the crew to have a great experience. The most important event in the life of a ship is probably combat, the second is commissioning. It’s a huge event.”
For this large ship, logistics such as pier size, deep water, and security are also important factors.
The commissioning ceremony for USS Tripoli will be at Naval Air Station Pensacola and paid for by the Navy. The commissioning committee will be responsible for paying for all other aspects of the weeklong celebration. Quinn says the typical cost for a smaller ship is $140,000; as much as $300,000 is required for a large vessel.
Tripoli is a large ship, with a crew of over 1,000.
“The biggest expense is we provide plank owner certificates for the original crewmembers of the ship, so that’s over a thousand plaques,” Quinn said. “There are also some others that we give out to members who donate money to the ship, so, $300,000 is what we’re shooting for our goal.”
The commissioning committee has been fundraising for a few months, having launched the effort at the Pensacola Navy League/Marine Corps League Summer Social (in August) at Seville Quarter.
Committee member Harry White has been involved with all of Pensacola’s previous commissioning events and he says they’ve all started the same way, with a contribution from the same former naval aviator.
“Judge Lacey Collier, for the last five commissionings - now six - has been the one to make the first donation and he insists on that,” said White of the Senior U.S. District Judge, who served in the Navy for 20 years. “So Judge Collier got his picture taken signing that first check.”
White is a retired Air Force veteran and served for two decades as Public Affairs Officer for NAS Pensacola. With their Admiral’s Circle initiative, which involves donations of $1,000, he expects they’ll get contributions, not only from individuals here, but outside the local area as well.
“Historically, we’ve reached out and gotten people from Alabama, even Louisiana and Georgia, who have some ties to Tripoli or the Marine Corps and they’ll be willing to jump onboard,” said White, adding that Pensacola businessman John Carr is again helping with the fundraising.
“We’ve never had an issue, so, I’m very confident going in that yes, we will have the funds to do it right.
They’ll need to do it right. With about 6,000 to 10,000 guests expected, possibly including the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. With such distinguished individuals in attendance, White believes funds raised for the event will be a great investment in the local community and the future of the military here.
“It’s more about making the kind of public relations dollars,” said White of the huge economic impact expected. “But, more than anything else, it’s the reputation of Pensacola as a community and NAS Pensacola as a military facility to support these kinds of events.”
In the run up to the ship’s activation into service next fall, USS Tripoli crewmembers already are engaged in onboard training and regularly taking part in community relations projects here in Pensacola, including renovation of a Navy veteran’s home.
More information about the ship, officially referred to as Pre-Commissioning Unit or PCU Tripoli is available on the U.S. Navy website. Information about the commissioning ceremony and local fundraising efforts is available on the Navy League Pensacola website.