The tug Glacier Wind approaches the USS Anchorage to conduct a ship assist into port on May 1 at the Port of Anchorage, Alaska. The amphibious dock ship is visiting its namesake city, where it will be commissioned Saturday. (Erik Hill/The Anchorage Daily News via AP)
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ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — Eagle River native Cruz Boseman was sick of the cold, so he joined the Navy thinking there would be no chance of being stationed in Alaska.
But in a strange twist of fate, the Navy assigned Boseman to the USS Anchorage then sent him and the new warship to its namesake city for its commissioning ceremony.
Now the 21-year-old Boseman finds himself playing tour guide on the amphibious transport ship and showing his shipmates around town.
“A lot of people are like, where’s the closest bar? I’m like, whoa, there’s a lot more than just the bar,” he said.
The 684-foot ship arrived Wednesday at the Port of Anchorage after plowing through chunks of ice in Cook Inlet. A welcoming ceremony included Alaska Native dancing and a blessing of the ship. Public tours will be offered through Friday, and the commissioning ceremony is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday.
The USS Anchorage, the Navy’s seventh San Antonio-class amphibious transport ship, has a crew of 360 sailors and three Marines. It’s also the second Navy ship to carry the name Anchorage.
“This ship handles like a dream,” said Cmdr. Joel Stewart, its captain. “In my opinion, it’s the best-built ship in the class.”
The newest USS Anchorage is heavily armed with missile launchers, 30mm guns and machine guns. It can transport a total of 699 troops and deploy Marines, amphibious assault vehicles, Osprey till-rotor aircraft and a landing craft from ship to shore.
“As we execute our nation’s defense strategy and our Marine Corps returns to its traditional maritime roots, the improved warfighting capability Anchorage brings to the fleet will be critical.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a statement.
The ship also can provide humanitarian aid, such as the USS Mesa Verde did when it responded to the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
The 24,900-ton USS Anchorage was built by Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Avondale, La., and was delivered to the Navy on Sept. 17. It has been conducting trials since then from its home port in San Diego.
“What a phenomenal place to come, and to bring a ship,” Stewart said. “To bring it to life with the citizens of the city for which the ship is named is quite remarkable.”
Stewart was the first crew member assigned to the USS Anchorage in 2010. He had planned to be the executive officer of the ship until May then take command, but the previous captain, Brian Quin, was diagnosed with cancer and left the post on April 16. He was replaced two days later by Stewart.
Quin plans to attend the commissioning ceremony.
The event almost didn’t happen in Alaska because of federal budget cuts. But Stewart said Mabus wanted the Navy’s first-ever commissioning ceremony in the state to go forward.
“It was a priority of the secretary of the Navy, and he made a decision to support the commissioning up here,” Stewart said. The visit originally was set for two weeks but has been cut to four days.
The first USS Anchorage was commissioned in 1969 and saw action in Vietnam and Iraq. When it was decommissioned in 2003, the Navy said it was the most decorated ship on the West Coast.
The crew will get a liberty day on Sunday to explore the city of Anchorage. The ship will then return to San Diego for more testing, with a final trial set for July.
Operations specialist Gloria Hurtado, another crew member from Anchorage, said she is honored to serve on the ship that carries the name of her hometown.
The 12-year Navy veteran says she only makes it back to Anchorage about every two years, and couldn’t wait to meet up with family and friends.
“I love this place,” she said. “I can’t wait to see them.”