For the past week, though, the USS Laffey has had a friend (ships can totally be friends) across the harbor: The future USS Ralph Johnson, a guided missile destroyer, has sat at the south end of the Columbus Street Terminal awaiting its commissioning, slated for 10 a.m. Saturday.
The future USS Ralph Johnson — the commissioning will make the name official — classified by the Navy as DDG 114, won’t stay long. After the ship is commissioned, the 315-member crew will take the USS Ralph Johnson to its homeport in Everett, Wash.
The ship’s namesake, Marine Pfc. Ralph H. Johnson, was a Charleston native who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for diving on a grenade to save two fellow Marines during the Vietnam War.
Cmdr. Jason Patterson, the commanding officer of the future USS Ralph Johnson, said, “Personally, for me, in this pre-commissioning process, this is a very capable ship — but it’s about the ship’s namesake.”
He added, “That, to me, is the best part of this whole experience from the perspective of the commanding officer, to have a ship named after a hero like that.”
The ship, the 64th Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) class destroyer, was built by Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Miss. It took about four years to build and test, with the first steel cut for the ship in September 2013 and Huntington Ingalls delivering the ship to the Navy in November. The ship’s crew, which has been training together for about two years, moved aboard the ship in December.
For the past three months, the crew has continued to train and get certified aboard the ship.
“It was a pretty intense three months,” Patterson said. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it” before the commissioning.
Additionally, over half of the crew has never been underway, on any ship, which Patterson said is wont to happen in the Navy.
“But those other half of the crew are all very seasoned sailors,” he said. “Very well-trained ... so we’re able to do it (sail the ship) safely. There’s always a generational change in the Navy, you always have new sailors coming aboard, and life at sea is very unique.”
The USS Ralph Johnson is also the final ship to be built by Freddie Joe O’Brien, the ship’s program manager and a master shipbuilder, who’s been with Huntington Ingalls for 46 years. Bill Glenn, spokesman for the company, said it’s not unusual for shipbuilders to stay with the company for such a long tenure.
“He’s a great guy, and most of the people down there are salt of the earth,” Glenn said. “I’ve been there 23 years, and I’m a baby compared to him. He’s been there twice as long as I have.”