Bringing Anchorage to Life
By Cmdr. Joel G. Stewart, commanding officer of USS Anchorage (LPD 23)
The amphibious transport dock Anchorage (LPD 23) and her crew of 417 Sailors steamed from her homeport of San Diego, Calif. with 233 Marines assigned to Task Force Denali and nearly 100 Sailors from other ships and pre-commissioning units. Their mission was to sail more than 2,000 miles north by northwest and get the ship to her namesake city for a commissioning ceremony.
Recently the crew has weathered more than open ocean because of budget concerns, unpredictable weather, and an unexpected change of command. As I write this from the commanding officer’s cabin, the night before the ship is commissioned, I am not where I thought I would be two weeks ago, nor did any of the crew. My predecessor in command, Anchorage’s first commanding officer, Capt. Brian Quin, was diagnosed with cancer, a little more than three weeks ago, which required immediate surgery. At a captain’s call that ended with him turning to me, and stating “I am ready to be relieved,” he told the crew what was going on. “This is just like an emergency break away, an accelerated normal process,” he explained. There was not a dry eye to be found.
The ship’s motto, “Nil Fato Relinquimus” translates to “We Leave Nothing to Chance.” That is how the crew was able to accept the change of command and keep focused on our mission. Capt. Quin always spoke to the crew about setting the conditions for success and that if we were relying upon one individual to accomplish our mission, then we have fallen short of our goal. We did not disappoint him when he had to move on, though it pained us to do so. He will be joining us here in Anchorage tomorrow for the ceremony and we could not be more pleased.
Once at sea, we went straight to Camp Pendleton and brought on a landing craft air cushion (LCAC), two Armored Assault Vehicles (AAV) and two CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. Then we conducted flight operations for MV-22 Ospreys. After flight ops were complete, we found the duty oiler, USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187), topped off our fuel tanks, and then pointed the bow for Alaska.
In preparing for a commissioning ceremony that would proceed no matter what the weather, Anchorage Sailors needed everything in their seabag and then some: full dress blue uniform, peacoat, all-weather coat, gloves, ear muffs, sweater, watchcap, long underwear and warm socks. Not common place items for San Diego Sailors, but they all dug through their garages and storage lockers to make sure everything was packed for this trip. They are ready for this adventure, leaving nothing to chance!
We have three Sailors who are making a port visit to their hometown. Information Systems Technician 1st Class Ashley Faciane, Operations Specialist 2nd Class Gloria Hurtado, and Seaman Cruz Boseman all hail from the Anchorage area and are prominent in the commissioning ceremony. Additionally, we have two crew members, Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Jacinto Ganac and Culinary Specialist 1st Class Jupiter Bongolan, who served on the former Anchorage (LSD 36) until her decommissioning. These special Sailors tie the old and new crews together, as well as the ship with her namesake city.
The Municipality of Anchorage has been fantastic to work with and is very excited to have the crew see the city for which the ship is named. Capt. Quin, Command Master Chief Pete Santos, our Commissioning Coordinator Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Friel, myself, and a few crew had the opportunity to conduct site visits, but most in the crew have never been to Alaska. Those who have not been are very excited, and look forward to bringing their warship to life in the “Last Frontier.”