By David Pittman –
USS Gabrielle Giffords Sets Sail Navy Ship Commissioned in Name of Former Congresswoman
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was thankful for others as she stood on a Texas pier where the U.S. Navy’s newest combat ship was commissioned in her name.
Giffords, the courageous representative from Arizona, stood before a crowd of nearly 2,500 guests at Pier 21 in the Texas Gulf Coast city of Galveston and expressed what an “incredible honor” it was for her to participate in the commissioning ceremony for the USS Gabrielle Giffords.
“I thought of you in my darkest days, the sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines of the United States of America,” said Giffords, with her husband, Mark Kelly – a retired astronaut, engineer and U.S. Navy captain – by her side. “We ask so much of you. Despite danger, you always say, ‘Yes.’ You make me proud. You make America proud.”
The honor bestowed on Giffords at the June 10 commissioning ceremony is lofty, incredibly exclusive and steeped in tradition. The USS Gabrielle Giffords is the first Navy warship named after a living woman since “Lady Washington” (named for Martha Washington) was commissioned in 1776, and only the 13th named for a living person since 1850.
In announcing five years ago that the warship would be named for Giffords, then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said it was appropriate because Giffords “has become synonymous with courage, has inspired the nation with remarkable resiliency and shown the possibilities of the human spirit.”
Giffords was shot in the head on Jan. 8, 2011, at a “Congress on Your Corner” event at a Tucson grocery store. Remarkably, she survived, though she suffers from a language disorder and is partially paralyzed from the attack. Six people died and 13 others, including Giffords, were injured in the shooting rampage. The killer, Jared Loughner, was sentenced to life in prison.
Giffords served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007 to Jan. 25, 2012. The Southern Arizona congressional district she represented includes two major military installations – Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson and Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista – which is the reason Giffords worked hard to land a position on the House Armed Services Committee.
High-ranking military officials and major Democratic Party political figures – including former secretary of state and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Joe Biden – attended the ship’s commissioning ceremony.
The USS Gabrielle Giffords, which cost $475 million, is the 10th in a series of high-speed warships built to navigate shallow coastal areas, known as “littoral” waters. The ship – which weighs 3,200 tons and is 421 feet long – uses two gas-turbine and two diesel engines to power four steerable waterjets capable of propelling it to speeds of more than 40 knots, or 46 miles an hour.
Littoral combat ships, which are armed with various missiles and machine guns, are expected to be an important part of the Navy fleet for more than three decades. An extremely versatile ship, it is designed to operate in near-shore environments that other warships cannot get into to eliminate threats from mines, submarines and fast surface crafts. It is effective in battling deep-water menaces as well. The ship is outfitted with modular payloads that can be changed out quickly to perform a variety of missions.
Most other Navy surface combatant ships have a crew of 300 or more sailors, but littoral combat ships like the USS Gabrielle Giffords are more automated and have much smaller crews. The USS Gabrielle Gifford’s crew numbered just 73 at the ship’s commissioning.
Navy Adm. William Moran, vice chief of naval operations, delivered the ceremony’s principal address before officially commissioning the ship into service.
“As we man the rails today, blood gets pumped, the ship comes alive and the heart begins to beat,” Moran said. “It’s the blood that is infused by the spirit, the attitude and the courage of its namesake. We are so proud to be part of Gabrielle Gifford’s legacy to the United States.”
Following the commissioning, Jill Biden, the ship’s sponsor and wife of the former vice president, gave the time-honored Navy tradition of ordering the crew to “man our ship and bring her to life!”
The crowd sounded its approval as the crew ran aboard the ship to their assigned stations to complete the ritual of bringing the ship into active service.
“I will never forget this day or the crew of the USS Gabrielle Giffords,” said Giffords, who wished her namesake vessel and those aboard it “fair winds and following seas.”
The home port of the USS Gabrielle Giffords is in San Diego.