BATH, Maine — When he served on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, Capt. James A. Kirk was assigned the call sign “Tiberius,” in a nod to the starship captain of the USS Enterprise who shared the same first and last name on the TV show “Star Trek.” The fictional captain’s middle name was Tiberius, which the Star Trek franchise took delight in trumpeting on television and in movies.
But when the USS Zumwalt, named after Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt, is christened at Bath Iron Works on Saturday, Kirk and the crew of the prototype stealth destroyer will be focused on the admiral’s legacy.
The 19th chief of naval operations, Zumwalt waged a campaign designed to increase opportunities for women and minorities during the early 1970s. His son, retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. James Zumwalt, told the Bangor Daily News that his father made the Navy “a kinder, gentler place to serve.”
“That legacy is certainly part of what we talk of as a crew on the ship,” Kirk, the Zumwalt's skipper, said. “We’re very, very proud of that legacy.”
The $4 billion Zumwalt, the first-in-class DDG 1000 guided missile destroyer, is marked by its advanced technology and innovative design. It’s “multimission” capability will allow it to engage in surface, littoral (shallow water) and air warfare, defense industry analyst Loren Thompson said Tuesday.
Thompson described the Zumwalt as “the most capable destroyer in history.”
Kirk said Navy technology continues to evolve, and he’s confident he and the crew will be prepared for the challenges posed by taking the helm of the first Zumwalt-class destroyer.
“One of the informal mottos we have on the ship is, ‘You keep leaning forward,’” Kirk said Wednesday. “It’s a quote from Adm. Zumwalt.”
Zumwalt uttered those words at a time “when he was facing some pretty withering criticism for change he was enacting in the Navy,” Kirk said. And the legacy of the man whom President Bill Clinton called “the conscience of the Navy” is on the minds of sailors and officers alike as they prepare to board the ship.
Kirk said that as the Cold War continued, Zumwalt put in place programs that made the fleet “more relevant to its time.”
“He’s the guy who said, ‘We need to change and shrink the fleet to get rid of some obsolescent ships and other aircraft we had, and put in place plans to build the next fleet that would be up to the challenges of the future,’” Kirk said.
An even more enduring part of Zumwalt’s legacy, though, are the changes of the Navy itself, Kirk said. During his tenure as Chief of Naval Operations, the first female and African-American officers were promoted to flag rank, and women for the first time were allowed to become naval aviators, among many other changes.
“He put the Navy on the course to a more just institution,” Kirk said. “In my mind, he’s a towering figure in the history of our Navy, one who I think, increasingly, history will recognize as a great mind and intellect.”