Monday, May 14, 2018

The Commissioning of the USS Portland

I recently attended the commissioning ceremony for the USS Portland. I read about the event in the local paper several months ago and was intrigued enough to look for further information on their website. Fortunately, I was able to secure an invitation to the event by completing a request online and then corresponding via USPS mail, much like you would receive and respond to a wedding invitation. There were a limited number of civilian tickets available, all of which were free but first come first served. The maximum you could request were two per person, and even though I already knew that Greg would be out of town on that date, I asked for two anyway, assuming I could easily find someone to join me. That person ended up being my friend John Lovegrove, who is probably best known for his documentary PDX: Brew City and for visiting 77 breweries in one day.
military ship commissioning
This was the first ship commissioning I have ever attended. While I have been on military ships before, they have all been retired and therefore relegated to museums. My interest in this event was more about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be present at a commissioning and to observe the ceremonial aspects of putting a new ship into military service. As described on the event website: "The Commissioning Ceremony is one of the most important traditional ceremonial milestones in the life of the Ship, for it represents the acceptance of the Ship by the United States Navy and her entry in to the active fleet."
commissioning ceremony USS Portland
The weather in Portland can be hit or miss in the spring, but Saturday, April 21 turned out to be a glorious day for the commissioning. With abundant sunshine and the temperature in the low 60's, it was not too hot nor too cold and the clear blue sky made a nice contrast to the dull gray of the ship. John and I arrived at the Port of Portland, Terminal Two just after 8:00 a.m. The ceremony was not scheduled to start until 10:00 a.m. but the instructions included with our tickets requested guests arrive early. As it turned out, this was sage advice because we had to wait for over an hour in a line that spanned the full length of the huge parking lot to get through security.
long line
Once we finally cleared security we were given bottled water, the commissioning program, and an 8.5" x 11" souvenir book. We bypassed the vendor tables where t-shirts, hats, and other items were for sale and headed straight to the seating area directly alongside the ship. We managed to get seats with a clear view of the platform where all of the distinguished guests and speakers were seated, and then spent the remaining half hour reading the program and flipping through the souvenir book.
souvenir book program
Finally, most of the 5,000 guests (including relatives of the ship's crew of 384) were seated and the commissioning ceremony commenced. For the next hour we listened to speeches from the governor of Oregon, the mayor of Portland, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Navy, and shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls Industries. The closing featured the most ceremonial aspects of the event including the breaking of the pennant, assumption of command, setting the first watch, and manning the ship and bringing her to life (for which the ship's crew boarded and assumed positions from bow to stern).
howitzer cannon gun salute
At the conclusion of the ceremony, they announced that ship tours would begin in about 30 minutes and that we could also attend the reception on the west side of the port. John and I immediately got in line for the tour but then had to wait over an hour before we finally got to board the ship. This caused us to miss out on what turned out to be a free lunch at the reception, which was not clearly stated anywhere on the program or in the speakers' remarks.
welcome aboard ship
Thankfully, it was worth the wait to have a chance to explore the ship. I had assumed since it was being put into service, there would be areas that were off-limits. This wasn't the case at all, and we were allowed to roam freely through the well deck and on the flight deck, "play" with the equipment, and then ascend and descend many ladder-like interior stairs to check out the navigation room, bridge, galley, sleeping quarters, and medical facilities.
military night vision helmets
It was after 2:00 p.m. by the time John and I decided we had seen enough. It was a long day of being on our feet for hours, but it was totally worth the time and effort to experience this unique event and explore a modern military ship.

The USS Portland (LPD 27) is now part of the Pacific Fleet and is stationed in San Diego, CA.

Here is the link to all of my photos and videos from the commissioning ceremony:

Here are some stats about the ship:
Cost: $1.6 billion
Type: San Antonio Class (11th in this class of amphibious transport dock ships)
Length: 684 ft
Displacement: 25,000 tons
Draft: 22 ft
Crew: 381 sailors and three Marines
Embarked Landing Force: 699 with surge capacity of up to 800
Mission: "The primary mission of the USS Portland is to embark, transport and land U.S. Marine Corps expeditionary forces while providing command and control communications, connectivity and medical services."

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