For the second time in nearly 73 years, a U.S. Navy ship bearing the name of Nevada’s capital city will be christened by the wife of the mayor of Carson City.
At a ceremony to be held at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Austal USA Shipyard in Mobile, Ala., Susan Asbury Crowell, wife of Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell, will christen the $180 million USNS Carson City (JHSV-7), a sleek, high-speed, 338-foot twin-hull catamaran.
Also taking part in the christening will be Bob Wiley, the ship’s captain, who, by coincidence, is a Carson City resident; Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell, a retired Navy Reserve captain who served in Vietnam; Carolyn M. Southard, the ship’s maid of honor and wife of Carson’s Navy League President Bud Southard; U.S. Sen. Dean Heller; and Congressman Mark Amodei.
The new Carson City, which will be homeported at the U.S. Navy Station at Rota, Spain, is an unarmed noncombatant that bears no likeness to the first ship of that name, the USS Carson City (PF-50), a 303-foot, heavily-armed patrol frigate resembling a small destroyer that was christened at a Los Angeles shipyard on March 24, 1944, by the wife of Carson City Mayor C.B. Austin.
And there are other dissimilarities between the two vessels.
The prefix “USNS” before the new Carson City’s name indicates it’s an auxiliary support ship crewed by civilians who are members of the Merchant Marine. Ships with the prefix “USS” before their names, such as the first USS Carson City, are generally combatants crewed by Navy personnel. The USS Carson City, like most other Navy patrol frigates of its era, had a crew of U.S. Coast Guard officers and enlisted men, however.
The first Carson City, which had a crew of 12 officers and 170 enlisted men, also had a different mission than the new ship of the same name.
Participating as a gunfire support warship during several World War II landings on Japanese-held islands in the Pacific, the USS Carson City won two battle stars for heroism in action. When the war ended in 1945, the ship was placed on Arctic patrol duty and then loaned to the navy of the Soviet Union. Later, it was, ironically, given to the post-war Japanese Navy. In 1971, following return to the U.S. Navy, it was deemed too old and obsolete for further service and sold to a Taiwanese firm that broke it up into scrap metal.
The new Carson City, which is being operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, has a crew that ranges from 22 to 44 depending on its mission. The ship is the seventh of 10 Joint High Speed vessels that are the legacy of a shipbuilding program which resulted in the launching of the first such ship in the late 1990s.
That first ship, the HSV-XI, made its initial West Coast visit in early August, 2002, and my son, Dave, and I traveled to the San Diego Naval Base where we toured the ship and cruised aboard it with other military writers and photographers. I’m including Dave’s photo of the vessel with this column today because it and the USNS Carson City are nearly identical.
With sleeping accommodations for up to 42 crew members and 104 mission personnel as well as airline seating for 312 others, the ship can transport Army and USMC company-sized units and their vehicles or reconfigure to become a troop transport for an infantry battalion. The vessel, powered by four diesel engines, also can carry a combat-loaded Abrams Main Battle Tank, and its flight deck can support day and night flight operations for a wide variety of helicopters including the CH-53 Super Stallion.
With a cruising speed that can reach 49 miles an hour, the new Carson City will be significantly faster than the first ship of that name, which had a maximum speed of 19 mph.
As for its capabilities to support humanitarian and disaster relief operations, the USNS Carson City, which has a draft of under 15 feet, is able to maneuver in difficult-to-reach, narrow or damaged ports and waterways to, for example, off-load ambulances, trucks, portable hospitals and earth-moving equipment via its ramp that can support up to 100 tons of weight. The ramp also can be used to load and off-load tanks and other heavy military vehicles.
Before he and his family flew to Alabama earlier this week to take part in the ceremony, Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell told me, “Carson City has a long and rich Navy history. As a community we could not be more proud to have yet another Navy ship named for the capital of Nevada.”
David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News.