STRAIT OF MAGELLAN (NNS) -- Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus embarked the future USS America (LHA 6) as she transited the Strait of Magellan during her maiden voyage, "America Visits the Americas," Aug. 19.
A tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey, assigned to the "Argonauts" of Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 22 transported Mabus and members of his staff to the America. Shortly after his arrival on board, Mabus ate dinner with the crew on the enlisted mess decks and spoke during an all-hands call.
Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 3, introduced Mabus during the all-hands call as the youngest Mississippi Governor to be elected in 150 years, a naval officer and "the man who brought ball caps back to the fleet." Ponds went on to describe just a few of the Secretary's responsibilities, such as a 150-billion-dollar annual budget, and taking care of more than 900 thousand Sailors, Marines, civilians and their families.
"Quality of service and quality of life have always been a priority for our Secretary," said Ponds. "He has four priorities: platforms, power, partnerships and the number one priority, which is and always has been, people."
After Ponds completed his introduction, Mabus took the microphone and began speaking to the Sailors and Marines in the crowd.
"I came down here to meet Sailors and Marines," he said. "For many of you, this is your first shipboard assignment and your first cruise. When I think about the Navy, the Marine Corps and how to organize it, the way I try to do it is by [using my four priorities]. When you put all four of those together, it gives us what the Navy and Marine Corps uniquely give the country, and that is presence. Being in the right place, not just at the right time, but all the time."
Mabus spoke on his four priorities and soon after, opened the floor for questions. Immediately following, he took the time to shake hands and take photos with every member of the crew that desired one. More than 400 Sailors and Marines waited patiently to take a photo with the Secretary.
"It was touching to see the Navy's top leader come out and see us operate," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Ulysses Craig. "Shaking everyone's hand was something he didn't have to do. It showed a lot of character on his part and how much he believes in putting Sailors first."
America is the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships. As the next generation "big-deck" amphibious assault ship, America is optimized for aviation, capable of supporting current and future aircraft such as the MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The ship is scheduled to be ceremoniously commissioned Oct. 11 in San Francisco.