DULUTH — The USS Minneapolis-St. Paul, a speedy combat ship built for near-shore missions, was put into active service during a ceremony Saturday morning at the Port of Duluth, the first time a U.S. Navy warship was commissioned in Minnesota.
"Man our ship and bring her to life," the ship's sponsor, former deputy undersecretary of the Navy Jodi Greene said from a platform in front of the 387-foot, steel-hulled vessel.
Dozens of sailors dressed in whites jogged in a single-file line up an aisle through the crowd and to the ship as the Navy Band played "Anchors Aweigh." There was a gun salute, a singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and a military helicopter flyover.
"We are so proud of the name — the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, one of a handful of politicians and military leaders who spoke during the commissioning ceremony. "And the ship's motto, which translates to 'I will either find a way or make one,' is a perfect reflection of the resolve and determination of our state's service members and our veterans."
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum recalled attending the ship's christening in 2019. She said she keeps a photograph from the event on the wall of her office in Washington. It was only three years ago, she said, but it was a different time.
"The strength of America's national security and the democratic values we all hold dear are being tested today like they've not been tested in our lifetimes," McCollum said. "There is no doubt in my mind that the officers and crew of the Minneapolis-St. Paul are ready to meet the challenges of a new geopolitical era and they're going to meet it head on."
Saturday's event drew hundreds of people to Duluth's port on a dreary morning with brief bursts of rain.
Ron Campbell of Minneapolis was in the audience wearing his Navy blues beneath a peacoat. He was enlisted for "23 years, four months, 10 days," he said, retiring in 1988.
"I felt it was necessary to be here with my son — it's an honor," he said, nodding to Jeff Campbell, a chair away from him.
The ship's crew last week offered invitation-only tours of the ship — from the Mark 110 gun, which is able to fire off 220 rounds per minute, to the helicopter hangar to a kitchen where grilled sandwiches were on the menu to the pilothouse where Cmdr. Alfonza White leads the navigation.
The tour guide likened the vessel to a Jet Ski for its agility and ability to reach a speed faster than 40 knots.
Greene dropped in to see visit the crew Thursday afternoon, pulling White aside for a quiet conversation about the ship's trip to Duluth. In 2015, Greene — a longtime Department of Defense official and an Air Force veteran — was named the ship's sponsor, a lifetime honor that charges its holder with championing the ship and its crew, and staying in regular contact. Her initials were attached to the keel of the ship in a ceremony in 2018.
"Words cannot describe it," Greene said. "Truly it's the highlight of my career."
The USS Minneapolis-St. Paul was built in Marinette, Wis., using Iron Range iron ore. Its commissioning, originally planned for 2021, was delayed by a problem with its propulsion system. It's the second ship to be named for the Twin Cities — a Los Angeles-class submarine had 24 years of service starting in the mid-1980s.
On Monday, the Minneapolis-St. Paul will leave Duluth for its home base in Mayport, Fla.