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USS Gabrielle Giffords to set sail amid backlash

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Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords waves to a crowd in front of the littoral combat ship, USS Gabrielle Giffords, named for her. Giffords was on stage as Dr. Jill Biden christened the ship in Mobile, Ala., on June 13, 2015. It is the 16th U.S. naval ship to be named for a woman and only the 13th since 1850 to be named for a living person. (DOD courtesy photo)

By Tracy Fuga

There is a method for naming a U.S. Navy ship. The procedures involved are the products of evolution and tradition. Starting at the beginning of the 20th century, the Navy’s ships were named via a system tailored to different ship types. Battleships bear the names of states, for example. Cruisers were named for cities while destroyers came to be named for American naval leaders and heroes.

With that criteria, naming a naval ship after a former congresswoman who has been called a hero seems fitting. However, the decision to name a littoral combat ship – armed with missiles, machine guns and other fast-firing weapons – in honor of Gabrielle Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman who has become an ardent anti-gun advocate after surviving an assassination attempt, has been noted by critics.

Giffords and her husband, retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, created the gun control group Americans for Responsible Solutions in 2013, two years after Giffords was shot in the head and critically injured in Tucson while speaking with constituents at a supermarket. The group is aimed at encouraging elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership. Both Giffords and Kelly have campaigned vigorously around the nation for anti-gun issues.

Some have criticized the Navy on social media for naming the gunship after Giffords because of her gun control stance. The Navy, though, stood by the naming, pointing to the former congresswoman’s perseverance after the 2011 shooting.

“Courage comes in many, many forms – physical, mental, spiritual and political,” said Vice Adm. Philip Cullom at the christening ceremony. “[Giffords] has truly modeled courage and resilience.”

The Navy accepted delivery of the $475 million littoral combat ship (LCS) from shipbuilders during a ceremony in Mobile, Alabama, last week.

The vessel is the ninth LCS to join the fleet. It is also the 16th naval ship to be named for a woman and the first since the USS Amelia Earhart launched in 2008.

The Navy expects to receive a total of 26 LCS ships, which come in two versions, the Independence class and Freedom class.

The Freedom variant team is led by Lockheed Martin and the Independence variant is built by Austal USA. The Giffords vessel is of the Independence class.

The official transfer of the ship – which took four years to build – from Austal USA to the Navy marks the final milestone before it is commissioned into active service, which is planned for mid-2017, according to the Navy.

“Gabrielle Giffords will join her sister littoral combat ships in their homeport of San Diego in 2017, commencing testing and training for deployed operations upon arrival,” said Navy Capt. Harrison, commander, Littoral Combat Ship Squadron One.

Critics will likely have much to say about the USS Gabrielle Giffords until the next controversy sets sail.

The future USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), during its launch sequence Feb. 24-25 at the Austal USA shipyard. The Navy is leveraging competition, fixed-price contracting and ongoing production efficiencies to reduce construction time and costs on littoral combat ships. The launch of the Gabrielle Giffords marks an important production milestone for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. (Photo by Christopher G. Johnson)


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