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Sen. Shaheen takes bubbly to Navy combat ship Manchester

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News

May 07. 2016 10:09PM
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, christens the Navy combat ship Manchester on Saturday at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala. Looking on is Craig Perciavalle, president of Austal USA. Shaheen, the new ship's sponsor, also took the opportunity to lobby for the ship to be commissioned in Portsmouth later this year. (COURTESY)

Sleek, fast and flexible, the U.S. Navy's new combat ship Manchester was christened Saturday at the Alabama shipyard where she was built.

New Hampshire's senior senator, Jeanne Shaheen, did the honors, smashing a bottle of champagne against the ship, named in honor of her state's largest city.

Shaheen is the ship's sponsor, which she called both an honor and a "solemn responsibility."

"For the United States of America, I christen thee Manchester," said Shaheen, whose family was in attendance. "May God bless this ship and all who sail in it."

Shaheen was sporting protective safety goggles and gloves but that didn't protect her fuchsia blazer and black skirt from getting drenched with champagne as the bottle shattered.

The ship's horn sounded and a band struck up "Anchors Aweigh" as Shaheen exchanged hugs with Navy Cmdr. Emily Bassett, who will command the Manchester. Bassett had visited Manchester last weekend to get a first-hand look at the city for which her ship is named.

Shaheen also took a moment in her remarks to lobby for holding the official commissioning ceremony for the USS Manchester in Portsmouth.

Part of Bassett's visit was to scout locations for the fall ceremony and Portsmouth is likely to top the list.

The only woman in U.S. history to be elected both a governor and a U.S. senator, Shaheen noted some New Hampshire history relevant to the occasion.

The first known instance of a woman sponsoring and christening a Navy vessel, she said, took place in Portsmouth in 1827, when a female "pioneer" whose name has been lost to history christened the sloop-of-war Concord. "Since then, it has become a Navy tradition for a woman to both sponsor and christen ships," she said.

Shaheen noted she last year had the pleasure of spending a day aboard the USS New Hampshire, a Virginia-class attack submarine.

These new 21st-century ships are impressive, she said, but even more exceptional is "the professionalism and excellence" of those who serve on board.

"In peacetime and in war, the men and women of the United States Navy are always on duty, always vigilant, always dedicated to keeping this nation safe," Shaheen said.

As sponsor, Shaheen becomes a permanent member of the ship's crew.

The Manchester was built by Austal USA at its Mobile, Ala., shipyard.

Components and critical systems for the 419-foot littoral combat ship were made by Manchester-based Granite State Manufacturing. Company executives Glenn Lawton and Doug Thomson were on hand for the christening ceremony.

The new Independence-class ship will be outfitted with reconfigurable payloads called mission modules, which can be changed quickly.

The modules, combined with crew detachments and aviation assets, will be used to deploy manned and unmanned vehicles and sensors in support of mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare or surface warfare missions, according to the Navy.

This is actually the second USS Manchester. The first was a light cruiser that served three combat tours during the Korean War and earned nine battle stars before it was decommissioned in 1956.

During her recent visit to Manchester, Cmdr. Bassett explained that the new Manchester's "trimaran" hull is designed to minimize the amount of water displaced. That allows the ship to go faster and reach waters only smaller vessels could have navigated in the past.

The new ship will not be fully named the USS Manchester until it is officially commissioned in the fall.


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