Local women help make history, sponsor and christen naval ship

By Amanda McBride The Choctaw Plaindealer

Choctaw County has made history again. Not only is the USNS Choctaw County, the second of the U.S. Navy’s new joint high speed vessels named after our county, but the women of the Ackerman High School Class of 1966 are all sponsors of the ship.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, of Ackerman, chose the 29 women of his graduating class as sponsors breaking tradition of one woman being the sponsor of a ship.

All 29 sponsors of the USNS Choctaw County were invited to the christening ceremony on September 15 in Mobile, Ala. Nineteen were able to attend with Theresa Gilliam Pitts as the lead sponsor.

Not only did they participate in the christening ceremony, but they were allowed to tour the USNS Spearhead, which is identical to the USNS Choctaw County, participate in the mast stepping tradition and were treated to a reception dinner in their honor.

The USNS Choctaw County is not complete yet, so the christening ceremony was held in the Austal USA shipyard with the USNS Choctaw County above the attendees.

Pitts broke the bottle of champagne on the bow of the ship while all attending sponsors said, “For the United States of America, I christen thee CHOCTAW COUNTY. May God bless this ship and all who sail in her.

As part of the christening ceremony, Pitts presented the ship with a gift. It was a photo collage of Choctaw County. It includes photos of the Choctaw County Courthouse, Ackerman High School, and welcome signs for both the city and county. The collage will reside inside the ship.

The traditional naval christening ceremony moves the ship from the construction phase to the testing phase. The ceremony is designed to honor the ship’s namesake, celebrate its sponsors and recognize the shipbuilding community. In this case, Austal USA of Mobile, Ala. is the shipbuilder.

As sponsors, the women of the AHS Class of 1966, are now expected to develop a relationship with the ship and her crew.

The women of the AHS Class of 1966 are (* means attended ceremony): Theresa Gilliam Pitts*, Judy Ward Barham, Janice Kelley Black*, Carolyn Padilla Bray*, Myra Davis Burton, Diane Burdine*, Patsy Mabus Freshour, Jerry Liddell Fulce*, Linda McCarty Green*, Dianne Johns Hegan*, Gale Stephenson Henderson*, Mattie Rae Hill, Evelyn King Jackson*, Mary Paula MacDonald*, Ann Carr Martin, Pattie Frances Medoza*, Pam Reid Miller*, Marie Busby Oberhousen*, Barbara Brooks Palmertree, Judy Jenkins Peeples, Sandra Box Putman*, Cherrie Edwards Salley*, Frieda Sanders, Sarah Bagwell Seaman*, Cheryl Long Stacy*, Lilian Kay Taylor, Sue Perrigin Tollison, Sandra Burney Vance and Glennis James Wood*.

The USNS Choctaw County was named after places in Mississippi, Alabama and Missouri, who all share the name Choctaw County. The ship was named after the three Choctaw Counties to honor the people of rural America for their contributions to their communities and their families.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the name of the joint high speed vessel in a ceremony on October 6, 2011 at Ackerman High School. All AHS students were allowed to attend the special ceremony.

About the USNS Choctaw County USNS Choctaw County (JHSV 2), the second of the Navy’s new joint high- speed vessels (JHSV) is designed for rapid intra-theater transport of troops and military equipment.

Military Sealift Command (MSC) will own and operate Choctaw County and the other JHSVs that are under contract to be built for the Navy. Choctaw County will have a crew of 21 civil service mariners working for MSC who will operate, navigate and maintain the ship.

The 338-foot-long aluminum catamarans are designed to be fast, flexible and maneuverable, even in shallow waters, making them ideal for transporting troops and equipment quickly within a theater of operations. The 20,000-square-foot mission bay area aboard JHSVs can be reconfigured to quickly adapt to whatever mission the ship is tasked with, such as carrying containerized portable hospitals to support disaster relief or transporting tanks and troops.

JHSVs are capable of transporting 600 tons of military troops, vehicles, supplies and equipment 1,200 nautical miles at a high average speed of 35 knots and can operate in shallow-draft, austere ports and waterways, providing U.S. forces added mobility and flexibility. The JHSVs’ aviation flight decks can support day and night flight operations. Each JHSV also has sleeping accommodations for up to 146 personnel and airline-style seating for up to 312.

Some of the information in this article is from the Military Sealift Command Public Affairs.