On a cold Friday night, the USS Somerset silently floated on the Delaware River between the Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman bridges, waiting to soon be put into active duty by the U.S. Navy.
The 684-foot-long amphibious transport dock’s commissioning is scheduled to take place today, beginning at 11 a.m. at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.
The ceremony, which is expected to attract a crowd of approximately 7,000 people, represents the culmination of countless hours of work by shipbuilders, politicians, businessmen, community organizations and members of the local community.
Once in service, the $1.2 billion San Antonio-class vessel, named after the county where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will serve a dual role, providing military protection and humanitarian relief. And it will carry the name Somerset to points all across the globe.
“It’s an honor for the county to have this ship named after it,” said Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk.
The event is expected to include speeches and music, along with a mixed feeling of celebration and respectful reflection.
Activities will culminate with the call “man our ship and bring her to life.” Crew members will then immediately board the vessel, which is sponsored by Mary Jo Myers, the wife of retired Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It’s awesome to see,” said USS Somerset Commissioning Committee Chairman Thomas Metzger, a member of the Navy League of the United States’ Philadelphia Council. It will be the third major ceremony in the ship’s history, including the official launch in April 2012 and christening on July 28, 2012, both of which occurred where Northrop Grumman Ship Systems built the landing dock at Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in suburban New Orleans.
“If it’s anything like the christening, it’s going to be very moving,” said G. Henry Cook, Somerset Trust Co. CEO and president, who helped raise funds for commissioning-related activities.