MARINETTE, Wis. (NNS) -- Thousands looked on Sept. 24 as the Navy christened and launched the nation's first littoral combat ship, Freedom (LCS 1), at the Marinette Marine shipyard.
"Just a little more than three years ago she was just an idea, now Freedom stands before us. And on this morning, we christen her, send her down the ways and get her ready to join the fleet next year," said Adm. Mike Mullen, Chief of Naval Operations. "It comes none too soon, because there are tough challenges out there that only she can handle."
The 377-foot Freedom is capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots and can operate in water less than 20 feet deep. The ship will act as a platform for launch and recovery of manned and unmanned vehicles. Its modular design will support interchangeable mission packages, allowing the ship to be reconfigured for antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, or surface warfare missions on an as-needed basis.
"Until now, this vessel has been a part of the shipyard structure -- a mass of steel, cables and electronics. Today Freedom is a maritime vessel. She is on her way to joining our great Navy patrolling the vast oceans of our world," said Delores Etter, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition.
Freedom acknowledges the enduring foundation of our nation and honors American communities which bear the name Freedom. States having towns named Freedom include California, Indiana, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
But, as Mullen made clear, Freedom also acknowledges new challenges faced by the Navy in the war on terror and will complement the vision of a global "1,000-ship navy" built upon ad hoc maritime partnerships.
"Freedom will know how to fight, but she can also be a friend," said Mullen. "I am convinced that if we pool resources together, as partners and friends, we can best tackle many of the tough maritime problems we face. The Freedom class will fit perfectly into such partnerships. Her shallow draft and agility will allow her to go, when asked -- deep into green and brown water -- where we, our allies, and emerging partners face some of the most difficult challenges."
The christening ceremony included the traditional smashing of a champagne bottle across the ship's bow, performed by ship's sponsor Birgit Smith. The ship then made a dramatic side-launch into the Menominee River.
Smith is the wife of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Mullen put Birgit Smith's selection as sponsor into perspective for the assembled crowd by referring to a letter her husband wrote home from Iraq.
"When I think of his words 'I am prepared to give all that I am' and the way he did exactly that, it reminds me of the true high cost of living in America, the price of freedom," he said. "Paul paid that debt for us. His valor reminds us that we must be ready to defend freedom whenever and wherever it is challenged.
"Ships also really do take on the spirit of their sponsor," he continued. "And I for one will take great comfort that when Freedom's crews sail into harm's way your quiet strength will go with them."
Freedom will be manned by one of two rotational crews, blue and gold, similar to the rotational crews assigned to Trident submarines. The crews will be augmented by one of three mission package crews during focused mission assignments.
The blue crew commanding officer is Cmdr. Donald Gabrielson, who was born in northern Minnesota and graduated from the U.S. Navy Academy in 1989. The gold crew commanding officer is Cmdr. Michael Doran, who was born in Harrisonville, Mo., and graduated from Villanova University in 1989.
Freedom will continue to undergo outfitting and testing at Marinette Marine. The ship will be commissioned in 2007 and eventually homeported in San Diego, Ca.
The second LCS, named Independence, is currently under construction at Bath Iron Work in Bath, Maine. General Dynamics Corporation is building Indepence to a different design than that of Freedom.
For more news from around the fleet, visit www.navy.mil.