This article originally appeared in the Omaha News Herald, 6 February 2018.
By Steve Liewer and Maggie O’Brien (Omaha News Herald)
SAN DIEGO — “Man our ship, and bring her to life!”
Those words, shouted by ship sponsor Susie Buffett, sent dozens of sailors in navy blue dress uniforms quick-stepping up the gangplank of the Navy’s newest warship, the USS Omaha, as a band blared “Anchors Aweigh.” It was the most stirring moment of the hourlong commissioning ceremony on San Diego’s Broadway Pier.
“Nothing can beat this. Wow!” Buffett said.
The Omaha philanthropist, describing the ship as “badass,” said she was proud of the ship and all those who built it. She pledged the support of its namesake city.
“Thousands of us back in Omaha and in Nebraska will be with you through thick and thin, through combat and in peace, whatever lies ahead,” she said.
About 1,200 people, including hundreds of Nebraskans, clapped and cheered under a sunny, blue Southern California sky for the commissioning of the Navy’s 11th littoral combat ship, a new class of ships designed to operate in shallow waters near shore. The Navy plans to build 32.
The luminaries included former Nebraska Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, a former Navy SEAL; Gov. Pete Ricketts; Mayor Jean Stothert; U.S. Rep. Don Bacon; and business leaders Warren Buffett, Mike Yanney and Walter Scott.
Stothert plugged the city’s attractions, its people and its work ethic.
“I am very proud to share our name, our heritage and our community values with USS Omaha,” she said.
The addition of the USS Omaha to the Navy fleet makes the old Cornhusker quip about the “Nebraska Navy” a little bit less of a joke. The Omaha joins the USS Nebraska, a ballistic-missile submarine, which was commissioned in 1993. And earlier in the week, the keel was laid at a San Diego shipyard for another future Navy ship with Nebraska ties. The USNS Miguel Keith is an expeditionary sea base, named for the Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War who lived in Omaha during his high school years.
Ricketts, who said he was “exercising gubernatorial privilege,” made skipper Cmdr. Mike Toth and the entire crew admirals of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska, a tongue-in-cheek honor in the landlocked state.
“Commander, you can be very proud of your ship’s namesake … and the state where that city resides,” Ricketts said. “We are all praying for you and your mission.”
Bacon noted that this USS Omaha will be the fourth Navy ship to bear that name. The first, which had sails, was commissioned in 1872 and spent 25 years as a quarantine ship. The second, a light cruiser, sank at least two German blockade runners during World War II. The third, a fast-attack submarine, prowled the seas from 1978-95.
“We already have a proud heritage with the name USS Omaha,” Bacon said, “and we’re going to build on it.”
Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift touted what he described as the ship’s “unique capabilities” in the 100 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian Oceans the ship will soon patrol. He praised a ship that will be faster than any other and, with its 14-foot draft, travel to ports with harbors too shallow for other Navy ships to visit.
“No doubt, any competitor that seeks to dominate the Indo-Pacific cannot afford to ignore the USS Omaha,” Swift said.
The USS Omaha’s keel was laid on Feb. 18, 2015, at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Alabama, and christened at a ceremony10 months later when Buffett, the ship’s sponsor, shattered a bottle of Champagne on the ship’s bow. It completed sea trials last summer and was delivered to the Navy in September. The ship arrived in San Diego in early January, after a trip through the Panama Canal.
At Saturday’s commissioning, former Nebraska Gov. and U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson said he is impressed with the size, technology and power of the ship now that it has become a reality.
“It will protect us,” he said. “You never want to have to use it, but we are glad it’s here.”
Omaha restaurateur Willy Theisen, who also attended, agreed with Nelson.
“It’s the most magnificent ship I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s a proud moment for the United States, for the City of San Diego and the City of Omaha. It’s a very patriotic day.”