Ronda Walker: Celebrating the Alabama-built USS Montgomery

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In the fall of 2011, Secretary of the United States Navy Ray Mabus visited Montgomery and participated in a ceremony on the banks of the Alabama River to announce that one of the new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) built by global shipbuilder Austal, would be named after the City of Montgomery. Five years later, on Sept. 10, the United States Ship Montgomery was commissioned in a grand ceremony in Mobile.

Ronda and her husband Jason, and two of their children, Eli and Margaret at the USS Montgomery commissioning, Sept. 10, 2016. [Photo Credit: Ronda M. Walker]

Ronda and her husband Jason, and two of their children, Eli and Margaret at the USS Montgomery commissioning, Sept. 10, 2016. [Photo Credit: Ronda M. Walker]

It was a sunny Saturday morning as my husband, Jason, and two of our children, Eli and Margaret, approached the Alabama State Docks in Mobile. As the USS Montgomery came into view, pride and awe filled our hearts. The Montgomery is a strong and aggressive state-of-the-art naval combatant, and with all of her strength and might she protects our borders. She is a bold new addition to the Navy’s combat mission and she was built in Alabama.

Adjusting to advances in technology and combat strategy, the Navy determined to improve force coverage in the immediate littoral waters, the waters closest to the shore, thus the development of the Littoral Combat Ship. The LCS is known for her speed, maneuverability and flexibility. She can swap out various systems to take on different missions, including finding and destroying mines, hunting submarines in shallow water, and fighting small boats. She also boasts a large flight deck and hangar.

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USS Montgomery commissioning, Sept. 10, 2016. [Photo Credit: Ronda M. Walker]

The U.S.S. Montgomery can reach a max speed of 40-plus knots, weighs 2,959 tons, and is 420 feet long. On board she will have 11 officers and 42 enlisted personnel. She will leave Mobile Bay this week headed to San Diego, passing through the Panama Canal en route. On board she will have the ship’s bell from the previous USS Montgomery (C9). That bell will eventually find its way back to the City of Montgomery and be displayed in City Hall for visitors to enjoy.

About 3,000 people gathered for the commissioning ceremony last Saturday. Many Montgomerians made the trip as well as many from our sister city of Mobile, including Mayor Sandy Stimpson. Crew members of the USS Montgomery had family in attendance, and there were dignitaries from across the state including Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Congressman Bradley Byrne, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, and Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton Dean. But for the most part the crowd consisted of proud Alabamians excited to experience this awesome piece of history.

Naval tradition calls for each ship to have a sponsor, a female civilian who will provide good luck and advocacy for the ship. In the case of the USS Montgomery, the grand honor of sponsor was bestowed on a Montgomery native daughter, Mary Montgomery Blackshear Sessions. Mrs. Sessions grew up in Montgomery and attended Huntington College, where she met her husband, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions. Mary Sessions brought a remarkable amount of Southern charm, grace and strength to the commissioning ceremony as she served in her capacity as sponsor. Mrs. Sessions is now considered a permanent member of the ship’s crew.

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Set-up for the USS Montgomery commissioning ceremony, Sept. 10, 2016. [Photo Credit: Ronda M. Walker]

For most in attendance, like myself, witnessing the birth of a new naval ship was a first-time experience. It was a profound moment for my entire family that will forever be etched in our memory.

After the impressive pomp and circumstance of the ceremonial speeches and bell ringing, the Commander of the USS Montgomery, Daniel Straub, called out for his sailors to, “man our ship and bring her to life.” At that moment as the brass band played, the uniformed crew of the Montgomery ran from the back of the audience, down the aisles and up the plank of the massive ship, literally bringing her to life. Because as powerful and grand as the ship itself is, the lifeblood of the Navy is the men and women who serve. I was overcome with tears of patriotic pride as the sailors boarded their ship and prepared to serve and defend our great nation. Words cannot express my thankfulness for the service of all of our military members.

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Ronda’s daughter Margaret along with Zion Williams who’s mother Melinda, works for U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) posing with naval officers from the USS Montgomery, at the ship’s commissioning on Sept. 10, 2016. [Photo Credit: Ronda M. Walker]

I cannot think of a more fitting event to attend with my family one day before the 15th anniversary of 9-11-01. The moment was not lost on anyone in attendance as we remembered the painful images of the 9-11 attacks and now sat staring at the newest vessel in the world’s most powerful Navy. We are a stronger, more prepared people as a result of our collective experiences and the powerful display of military might realized in the USS Montgomery made us all proud to be Americans. We must stand firm in our commitment to provide for a common defense. Thank you USS Montgomery, I wish you fair winds and following seas.

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Ronda M. Walker is a wife, mother of four, and a member of the Montgomery County Commission.

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