Here's why the city and county want to spend $50,000 commissioning USS Wichita

USS Wichita and USS Sioux City are berthed bow to bow at Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wis., as both ships were delivered to the U.S. Navy during 2018 ceremonies held at the shipyard.


By DION LEFLER | The Wichita Eagle | Published: October 9, 2018

(Tribune News Service) — Wichita City Hall and Sedgwick County government are moving full steam ahead on a plan to donate $50,000 of public money to the commissioning of a new Navy warship that will bear the city’s name on its stern.

The USS Wichita recently passed its initial sea trials and is scheduled to be commissioned as an official Navy warship in January.

The city and county money is to be combined with private donations from local companies and service clubs to help outfit the vessel to be more accommodating of the approximately 100 sailors who will be its crew.

The money is being raised by the USS Wichita Commissioning Committee, a local group representing public and private interests.

“The primary purpose of the commissioning committee is to take care of the crew’s needs,” said Pat Gallagher. “As co-chairman of the committee, I can guarantee you that is our first priority.”

The city is expected to vote on providing $25,000 at its meeting Tuesday. The County Commission will follow suit Wednesday.

“When the Navy builds a ship they build it to be a war-fighting ship, but don’t put anything else on the ship to make it so that it’s really conducive to having a crew on board,” said County Commission Chairman David Dennis.

The Wichita is a “littoral combat ship,” a small but muscular vessel planned to deliver firepower in shallow water near coastlines. The design is modular, so it can be easily refitted for different missions.

Depending on the configuration, it will have the capability to launch helicopters and drones, fire missiles, conduct anti-submarine operations, sweep for mines, intercept drug traffickers and pirates, spy on enemies and carry out humanitarian missions.

“I’m an Air Force guy, so I’m learning all this stuff from the Navy,” said Dennis, a retired colonel and a member of the commissioning committee.

The sailors will need things such as exercise equipment, games, laptop computers to communicate with their families back home — and even a barber chair, he said.

The Wichita will have a small crew and won’t carry a barber, so the sailors will have to cut each others’ hair at sea, Dennis said. He added he hopes to find someone who can donate a used chair, which could then be reupholstered in black and yellow, the colors of Wichita State University.

“If you take a look at some of the other cities, Omaha and so forth, that are having one of these same class ships, they’re raising upwards of $1 million for this,” Dennis said. “We don’t have anywhere near that.”

The city and county donations are “a little bit of public money going in with private money to make sure that we do it right.”

Any money left over after outfitting the ship for crew comfort will go toward a scholarship fund for the sailors and their families, said Mayor Jeff Longwell, an honorary chairman of the commissioning committee.

The commissioning committee is working with Wichita State on educational opportunities for the crew.

The ship is expected to carry the Wichita name around the world for the next 25 to 30 years, Longwell said.

“We adopt this ship for the duration of this ship,” he said.

The ship will be the third to bear the city’s name.

The first was a heavy cruiser that saw action in World War II. The second was an oiler that carried fuel and supplies into combat areas in the Vietnam War.

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