In a rare double commissioning, two new 418-foot Coast Guard national security cutters--the largest and most technologically advanced ships in the fleet--were ceremoniously brought to life and officially entered service in Honolulu Saturday.
The cutters Kimball and Midgett, with the addition of other vessels in the region, are expected to extend the reach of the unique capabilities of the Coast Guard--which has been called on to have a greater role in the U.S. "Free and Open Indo-Pacific " campaign.
The United States is worried about China upending the free-flow of commerce that has been the U.S. guiding principle since the end of World War II.
"In today's complex geostrategic environment with rising great power competition, the importance and demand for a strong Coast Guard presence in the Pacific has never been greater," said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz.
"It truly is a historic day," said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the Coast Guard's Pacific Area. "We come together to commission these two (Legend-class cutters ). They are the flagships of our fleet."
The Kimball arrived in late December and Midgett sailed into Honolulu on Aug. 16. It's the first time that Hawaii has been the home port of national security cutters.
The two $670 million ships, festooned with red, white and blue bunting, were bow to bow at the Honolulu Coast Guard station for the ceremony that was attended by more than 800 people.
"These are absolutely the most capable cutters in our arsenal of ships--they've got advanced command and control systems, aviation support facilities, stern boat launch ramps (and ) long-endurance station-keeping," Fagan said during her remarks. "We really could not ask for anything more than what these cutters deliver to us."
The Kimball was named for Sumner Kimball, who led the Treasury Department's Revenue Marine in the late 1800s and championed efforts to reduce expenses and modernize practices that became the backbone of the modern-day Coast Guard.
The Midgett name derives from the family whose service with what became the Coast Guard started as early as 1874. More than 200 members of the Midgett family have served in the Coast Guard.
One family member currently serves on the new cutter Midgett--Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Midgette, 22, from Gloucester, Va., a maritime enforcement specialist.
"My grandfather was Ernest Alonzo Midgette Jr. He was in the Coast Guard for 27 years," the grandson said. "He knew a lot more about (the family history ) than I did. He told me stories. He always said that if you are in the Midgette family he wanted me to carry on the legacy."
Over the generations, an "e" somehow was added to his branch of the family name, he said.
About 80 crew members from each ship sat in chairs next to each vessel. The ship's sponsors--Kay Cochran for the Kimball and Jazania O'Neal for the Midgett--took turns announcing, "Lay aboard, and bring our cutter to life!" to which each crew responded loudly with, "Yes, ma'am !"
The crews filed in unison onto each ship and formed a line across the open decks.
National security cutters have a top speed of more than 32 mph, a range of 12, 000 nautical miles and can carry a crew of up to 150. A big 57mm gun juts off the bow.
Fagan said the cutters are "game changers" and ticked off some fairly recent accomplishments that will set the mission tone for the Kimball and Midgett.
The USCGC Bertholf made history March 24-25 as the first Coast Guard cutter to transit the Taiwan Strait in a freedom of navigation operation.
Fagan said she was on USCGC Stratton about a week ago in Malaysia working with the Royal Malaysian Navy.
The cutter Munro, meanwhile, seized more than 17, 000 pounds of cocaine from a semi-submersible vessel in the Eastern Pacific in June.
Even before it was officially in service, the Midgett made drug busts in the Eastern Pacific on July 25 and 31 that netted more than 6, 700 pounds of cocaine worth more than $89 million.
The Coast Guard said it expects the Hawaii cutters to also deploy as far as the Bering Sea and South Pacific.
Schultz said after the ceremony that a double commissioning for big Coast Guard ships is very rare.
"I don't think we've done something like this since the'80s, on the waterfront of Portsmouth, Va." That's when two cutters were commissioned together, he said. "So we're talking a good part of 40 years ago almost. So this is a special day."
The commissionings originally were not meant to coincide. Construction on the Kimball was delayed and the most recent January commissioning date went out the window with a partial government shutdown, the Coast Guard said.
Capt. Holly Harrison, the commander of the Kimball, said the ship just returned from 10 days sailing around the Hawaiian Islands for final acceptance trials.
"Today, this ship is in tip-top shape," she said.
The Kimball is now considered to be operational, while it may be another 18 months before the Midgett reaches that stage. In that time the ship will get upgrades that are accomplished more readily in the new home port than in the shipyard, officials said.
This article is written by William Cole from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.