Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Sunday, October 2, 2011
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USS Spruance now on active duty
Warship ready to set sail after formal commissioning

Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Rose stood beside the USS Spruance Saturday afternoon and kissed his wife, while a crowd of thousands jostled for seats behind them.

The Marietta, Ga., native and his wife, Caroline, both 24, were married less than a year ago. With them was Lauren, their 3-month-old daughter, who was trying to sleep in her stroller amid the pageantry.

"It's been nine months since we've really been able to be together," Caroline Rose said.

Stephen Rose is a gunner's mate and will be one of the sailors manning the Tomahawk cruise missiles aboard the Spruance. The past two years of his life have been filled with training, much of that time away from loved ones.

"It's amazing and incredible to have my family here," Rose said. "It's a huge moment."

Cathy Norcross, his mother, was there, too, taking pictures. She also traveled from Georgia to be at her son's side.

"I had to see my baby with his baby and his ship," she said.

The Navy's newest and deadliest destroyer-class warship is officially in active service after Saturday evening's formal commissioning of the Spruance in Key West -- the city's first such ceremony -- in an upscale event that drew more than 3,000 people.

Spruance Commander Capt. M. Tate Westbrook said he chose Key West for the historic ceremony because of the island's rich maritime history and its long-standing ties with the Navy.

"She is the most capable warship at sea today," Westbrook told the audience from a lectern at the ship's port side.

Cannon fire thundered from the Outer Mole and through Truman Annex as two fighter jets from Naval Air Station Key West's Sundowner squadron flew over a sea of flashbulbs and cellphone camera lights during the ceremony.

Bill Busch of McHenry, Ill., traveled down to see his daughter, Lt. Cmdr. Bethany Busch.

"It's a very big deal," the father said of being there. "I've followed her whole career. She's a great officer and a great daughter."

Holland-natives and JanGeorge Interior Design owners Jan Oostdijk and George Rutgers attended the commissioning out of curiosity and to support the Navy.

"We've never been to something like this before," Rutgers said. "It's so impressive. It's wonderful."

The Spruance cruised in to dock at the Outer Mole on Sept. 23, giving its crew of 283 sailors a week to prepare the ship for war and enjoy liberty in the Southernmost City.

A commissioning is different than a christening, in which the ship is named and a bottle of champagne often broken across the bow. The Spruance was christened last year in Bath, Maine, where it was built.

The ship, built at the Bath Iron Works in Maine, will be home-ported in San Diego and be part of the Naval Pacific Fleet.

Most of its crew have never been to sea or war. Their average age is 24, Westbrook said last week.

The sailors thundered "Aye, aye!" and ran in formation aboard the ship and then saluted the audience after the flags were raised up the mast.

Besides having fun, crew members also kept busy last week volunteering at a number of community service projects.

They helped mulch a new playground at the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition's (FKOC) Poinciana Plaza complex, and aided Habitat for Humanity scrape and prepare an elderly resident's historic house for painting, and more.

The $1 billion, 9,200-ton, 509-foot ship is the newest of the Navy's new Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, which are outfitted with the highly touted Aegis Weapon System.

The superfast computer radar systems support Tomahawk missiles, which can destroy targets 1,000 miles away.

The Spruance's two gas turbine engines produce more than 100,000 horsepower, enough to propel the ship faster than 30 knots, according to the Navy.

The ship can work alone or alongside the largest aircraft carriers.

The vessel can attack submarines, airplanes, other ships or land targets as indicted by its motto, "Launch the Attack."

Now the Spruance will set sail for Asian and Mideast waters.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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