By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ANNAPOLIS, Md., Nov. 1, 2011 – Recognizing the importance of every possible U.S. national security asset, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff traveled here yesterday to get a personal tour of the newest Coast Guard national security cutter.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., landed by helicopter aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton as it transited up the Chesapeake Bay near here.
The 418-foot Legend-class vessel is the third of eight planned national security cutters built to carry out the most challenging maritime security, law enforcement and national defense missions, explained Coast Guard Capt. Charles Cushin, the ship’s first captain.
These Legend-class cutters will replace the aging 378-foot high-endurance cutters that have been in service since the 1960s, he said.
With larger flight decks, Stratton features state-of-the art command and control equipment and detection and defense capabilities against chemical, biological or radiological attack. In addition, advanced sensors provide intelligence to paint a common operating picture and enhance maritime domain awareness.
Dempsey said he welcomed the opportunity to learn about Stratton’s capabilities.
“One of the things we always talk about as service chiefs is [that] we need to provide the nation as many options as possible,” he said. “And getting to know what the Coast Guard can bring to the issue of national security has interested me greatly. So this trip out here just reinforces that.”
For Papp, who recalled serving on ships 30, 40, and in one case, 60 years old, the new Legend- class cutters represent a major step in the Coast Guard’s recapitalization efforts. “For a sailor like me, I love it,” he said.
“We have got just wonderful people … who are capable of getting great things out of old assets,” the commandant said. “But at the end of the day, they shouldn’t be forced to have to spend most of their time holding things together with old assets.
“We can take these great young men and women … and give them great modern tools so they can focus on their job, providing security and safety and stewardship of the oceans,” he continued. “So I am thrilled to see each one of these as they come off the line, and we can’t get the rest of them out there soon enough, as far as I am concerned.”
Current plans call for all eight national security cutters to be home-ported on the West Coast, but Papp said he’s reconsidering that decision, and that most likely, two will be based on the Atlantic Coast.
“I think there is still a need to have this capability on the East Coast, and probably it would not be so prudent to keep them all in the Pacific,” he said. “And the fact of the matter is, with the Panama Canal, you can get to most of our operating areas from places like Charleston [S.C.] or Miami almost quicker than you can from San Diego.”
While those plans are evaluated, Stratton’s 123-person crew is busy carrying out their inaugural cruise up the East Coast before heading to their new home port in Alameda, Calif. The first two national security cutters, Bertholf and Waesche, also are home-ported in Alameda.
Stratton will officially enter the Coast Guard’s operational fleet after being commissioned in March 2012.
First Lady Michelle Obama, who christened Stratton during July ceremonies in Pascagoula, Miss., praised the strength and tenacity of its namesake, Capt. Dorothy Stratton, who became the Coast Guard’s first female officer in 1942. Her inspiration lives on in today’s Coast Guard, the first lady said, as its members live up to their motto, “Always ready.”
Since leaving the Pascagoula shipyard in early October, Stratton’s crew has been busy learning the ship’s systems and establishing new standard operating procedures so they’re ready to do just that. Between drills and shipboard exercises, their inaugural cruise included stops in Pensacola, Fla., and Charleston before they headed up the Chesapeake Bay. Stratton is slated to arrive in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor today.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeremy Green, an operations specialist aboard Stratton, said he is still marveling that he got the opportunity to be part of its first crew.
“It’s pretty fantastic,” he said of Stratton. “We’re still learning how to use it to its full potential.”