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July 15, 2014 / iDriveWarships

Sailing America: Beginning of newest amphibious assault ship’s legacy on sea

Sailors assigned to the future USS America man the rails as the ship departs Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. for its maiden voyage.

By Command Master Chief Chad Lunsford, Future USS America (LHA 6)

As the command master chief of the U.S. Navy’s newest amphibious assault ship, I’ve been aboard the ship since the future USS America (LHA 6) was first introduced as a pre-commissioning unit (PCU). I often get asked what it means to be part of a PCU, and honestly, this journey has been incredibly rewarding and a career highlight.

Pre-commissioning units start with a few key leadership roles and they slowly grow over time. In our case—just two years ago—there were only 26 America crew members, and today America stands close to 1,100 members strong. The beginning phases were mostly critical schools that can take more than six months to complete.

As the time got closer to our move aboard date on April 10, (the date the Navy took custody of the ship) and the ship’s Sailors and Marines officially moved aboard, we started gaining more Sailors. In the two months prior to move aboard, the command gained close to 450 Sailors, which was a logistical challenge to say the least.

Once the America crew moved aboard and began living on the ship, we’ve spent the last three months away from our families. We’ve worked very long hours, including most weekends, to train for what most ships complete over the course of a year or more. We’re required to train and certify in every warfare area that existing ships certify in; however, the difference is America did all this while operating in a shipyard. The greatest challenge of a pre-commissioning unit is bringing together 1,100 individuals from various commands throughout the fleet and building one team.

Now that we are certified and safe to sail, we are prepared to get underway as a crew for the very first time. It’s an amazing day for everyone who has been involved in America’s pre-commissioning process. To witness our Sailors and Marines come together as one team and bring a ship to life is like no other experience in the world. We’ll begin our transit from the shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., around South America, to our new homeport of San Diego. Once we arrive in San Diego, we’ll begin preparing for our commissioning ceremony in San Francisco on Oct. 11.

America will bring a different set of unique capabilities to the strategic table for the Navy. We have increased aviation capabilities and communication centers to quickly move larger groups of Marines and their equipment to locations throughout the globe. We are designed specifically with the MV-22 Osprey and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in mind, and have the capabilities to sustain longer air operations.

In my opinion, there is no greater reward than to take a group of 1,100 individuals from commands spread throughout the fleet and develop a team of warfighters who are ready to answer our nation’s call. I’m impressed daily with the hard work, motivation and professionalism of our Sailors and Marines—America’s sons and daughters. I am proud to be part of America – “Our Ship, Our Country!”

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