NORFOLK (NNS) -- Precommissioning Unit Arlington (LPD 24) arrived in her Norfolk homeport March 22, in advance of an April 6, commissioning.
A special salute by more than 30 Arlington County, Va., and Pentagon first responders welcomed the crew of the multi-mission, amphibious ship as she pulled in pierside.
Alongside Sailors' family and friends were members of the ship's namesake Police Department, Fire Department and other emergency services personnel who were the initial responders at the Pentagon immediately following the 9-11 attack.
The ship was named in remembrance of the 184 heroes and victims who died that morning in Arlington.
"I look forward to boarding the ship I have heard so much about and knowing what it represents," said Arlington County Police Department Capt. Kevin Reardon, also a member of the commissioning committee.
Arlington crewmembers met Reardon and other first responders at the ship's christening two years ago and again during the 10th anniversary of 9-11 in Washington, D.C. After pulling in, they welcomed these heroes aboard, to see their new ship.
"The first responders have been tremendously supportive throughout the last two years" said the ship's Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Darren Nelson. "To be able to present to them their ship is an awesome occasion. For many Sailors, this is a very emotional event."
Arlington is the second of three ships named in remembrance of 9-11. The first, USS New York (LPD 21), was commissioned in her namesake city in November 2009, and completed a nine-month deployment last December.
Precommissioning Unit Somerset (LPD 25), which honors the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, who were killed when the plane crashed in Somerset County, Penn., is under construction in New Orleans' Avondale shipyard.
The newest addition to the fleet, Arlington and its crew are a tangible tribute to honor the victims, heroes, and survivors. Her strength and fortitude are not only reflected in the ship's crest and motto, but in the fact that her crew of 400 Sailors and Marines have worked diligently to ensure she is ready to execute the mission of the Navy, representing America - and Arlington County, around the world.
Although this is the first time for the ship at her homeport, many of the ship's crew will be returning to Norfolk, having spent months - and in some cases years - in Pascagoula, Miss., where the amphibious transport dock ship has been under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries' shipyard since the keel was laid in December 2008.
Hundreds of family members were waiting at Naval Station Norfolk's Pier 14 when the ship pulled in.
"This homecoming's going to be so special to us," said Command Ombudsman Marcia Hovey, "knowing all the hours of work and training, and the months and years of separation all of our Sailors and Marines have put into making her the best ship she can be."
Already developing a strong reputation for top-notch performance, the hard work and dedication of the crew was made evident when they aced Crew Certification Phase II, Light-Off Assessment and Antiterrorism Basic Phase Verification, scoring significantly higher than the fleet averages.
Last year, Arlington Sailors performed more than 4,800 hours of community service, topping 56 Navy commands to earn the Commander, Navy Region Middle Atlantic Community Service of the Year Award.
"The crew is performing beyond my greatest expectations," Nelson said. "It's great seeing a new crew learning their jobs quickly and then performing those jobs to the highest standards by taking ownership of their ship right from the start."
A new chapter for the ship and her crew will begin with an April 6 commissioning ceremony at Naval Station, Norfolk. The eighth in the San Antonio class of ships, Arlington is designed to be the most survivable amphibious vessel ever put to sea. The ship combines 21st century amphibious shipbuilding and warfighting technologies to support current and future Marine Corps aircraft and landing craft, and will be capable of taking nearly 1,200 Sailors and Marines into harm's way.
For more news from Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/surflant/.