The newest ship to enter the Military Sealift Command (MSC) fleet was christened at General Dynamics NASSCO – a union shipyard – on July 17.
The fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Lewis, which will carry CIVMARS from the SIU Government Services Division as part of its crew, was celebrated in a ceremony attended by family of the ship’s namesake, the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis. The event marked the first anniversary of Lewis’ death from pancreatic cancer.
The christening also saw a bipartisan congressional delegation made up of 30 members including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), Rep Maxine Waters (D-California), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California), and Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Georgia), Lewis’ successor.
Other dignitaries included former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus; Vice Adm. Ross Myers, commander, Fleet Cyber Command and commander, Tenth Fleet; Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander, Naval Surface Forces; MSC commanding officer Adm. Michael Wettlaufer; and actress and social activist Alfre Woodard, the ship’s sponsor.
Lewis served 17 terms as a congressman and was known as the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. A civil rights activist, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his long service in government by then-President Barack Obama in 2011.
“How perfect the motto of this ship: unbreakable perseverance,” said Pelosi in her keynote address. “Everyone who sees this ship will be reminded of John’s perseverance…. God truly blessed America with the dedication and leadership of John Lewis.”
The 746-foot Lewis is the first of the new John Lewis-class previously known as the TAO(X). This class of oilers has the ability to carry 162,000 barrels of diesel ship fuel, aviation fuel and dry-stores cargo. The upgraded oiler is built with double hulls to protect against oil spills and strengthened cargo and ballast tanks, and will be equipped with basic self-defense capabilities. The Lewis-class of oilers will replace the current Kaiser class fleet replenishment oilers as they age out of the MSC fleet.
“As the global maritime environment is increasingly crowded and contested, the John Lewis will continue to support our national security strategy in building partnerships with our friends and allies, and enable Naval forces to rapidly respond to crises, deter adversaries, and maintain forward presence to protect the homeland,” said Wettlaufer. “USNS John Lewis, with current and future ships that make up our combat logistics force, are absolutely fundamental to that mission as they provide fuel, parts, provisions, and mail for Naval forces around the globe.”
Six more Lewis-class oilers are on order for the Navy. In July 2016, US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus that he would name the Lewis-class oilers after prominent civil rights activists and leaders including Harvey Milk, Earl Warren, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone and Robert F. Kennedy.
“We miss John on this platform, but we will never be without him,” said Woodard Spencer. “May this ship inspire and free the spirit of those who serve on her and those of us on land!”