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USS Sioux City: A $362 million, 3,500-ton home on the water

Sailors man the rails after "bringing the ship to life" during the commissioning of USS Sioux City (LCS 11) in Annapolis, Md., on Nov. 17, 2018.

STACY GODFREY/U.S. NAVY

By SELENE SAN FELICE | The Capital | Published: November 17, 2018

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — The latest piece of bayside real estate in Annapolis is the USS Sioux City, a big ship and a big deal.

The Freedom-class littoral combat ship made its way from Marinette, Wisconsin, up a rainy, foggy Chesapeake Bay to dock at the Naval Academy Tuesday morning.

Saturday's commissioning ceremony celebrates the Navy's acceptance of the boat into the fleet and officially brings the Sioux City to life before it heads to its homeport in Mayport, Florida, Sunday.

While the crew has already been maintaining the 3,500-ton ship, Saturday marks the official move-in date for the sailors' new home.

For Command Master Chief Jason Stevenor, the trip to Annapolis is special even though he considers the city a second home. He was stationed at the Naval Academy a few years ago and his wife is from Catonsville.

"Commissioning is one of the biggest events to happen in a sailor's life. You don't commission a ship twice," Stevenor said. "To actually pull into Annapolis for commissioning, there's so much pride for these sailors. A Navy warship belongs to the taxpayers but a sailor takes a lot of pride in maintaining it."

The Sioux City cost taxpayers about $362 million, Navy officials said. At 378-feet long, that's about a million dollars per foot.

The ship is designed to fight close to shore, so it has firepower. The main battery is a massive 57-millimeter gun at the top of the ship that can fire 120 rounds per minute, along with two machine gun stations. It's also expected to get a 30-millimeter gun on the ram deck once it reaches Florida. In its Airborne Mission Zone, the ship can house two helicopters, or one helicopter and three remotely piloted aircrafts.

So what's it like to call the Sioux City home if you're not a big gun or a helicopter? We climbed aboard to find out.

The Sioux City Diet: ice cream, tacos and cultural celebrations

About 75 sailors man the ship at a time, rotating out in two crews, blue and gold, about every six to eight months.

"Humans get tired. Humans miss their families," Cmdr. Chavius Lewis said. He's the ship's executive officer.

Keeping our waters secure is the crew's top priority, obviously, but frozen treats are an important part of what fuels that safety.

Sioux City, Iowa, is the home of Blue Bunny ice cream, and the company wants to give sailors a taste of home while they're out at sea.

Once the ship reaches homeport, Blue Bunny has promised to deliver an ice cream bunker (a freezer cart with a sliding top) for the ship's mess deck with a lifetime supply of creamy, cold goodness. The logistics of that lifetime supply are still being worked out by officials, a spokesperson for the ship said.

Ice cream socials get the crew bonded and relaxed, Stevenor said.

"It's something to get everyone together to have a little fun and a little dessert," he said.

For Sevenor, one of the most important parts of the Sioux City is its galley, the ship's dining room.

The Navy has a 21-day cycle menu to ensure proper nutrition to match sailors' training and activity levels. Three enlisted culinary specialists cook meals like chicken, steak, pasta, lasagna, rice, beans, wings and pizza for the crew.

"Coming from a bigger command, cooking for this command is very easy," culinary specialist Nana Oduro said. "We have the liberty to create our own menu without needing to follow a preset guide, giving me the opportunity to do what I enjoy, cooking."

Sailors eat the typical three meals a day in the crew's mess. Chiefs get their own private mess. Sailors on night watch also get mid rats (midnight rations), an extra meal for watch standers doing the midnight to 4 a.m. watch. Taco Tuesdays and Wednesday burgers are traditions for the crew, Stevenor said.

Soon, he said a new tradition will start. Sailors on the cultural heritage committee will celebrate the different backgrounds represented on the ship with a meal from each sailor's culture every month.

How Sioux City sleeps and plays

Compared to larger capacity Navy ships, Sioux City sailors live in luxury, Stevenor said.

Sioux City sailors live and sleep in stateroom berthing modules, which look similar to a college freshman's dorm room. Two or three sailors each have their own twin bed and lockers and share a sink, toilet and shower room. The biggest berthing modules on the ship hold six to eight sailors, whereas Stevenor said other ships he's lived on cram 50 to 60 sailors in one large berthing module.

"It's very comfortable on board. A lot of the beds in most of the staterooms are quite spacious. There's enough headroom to sit up and read a book before bed," Stevenor said. "You get comfortable with your brothers and sisters on board, so it's not really a problem for anybody living with their friend."

When extra sailors need to be on board for backup, a cozy 20-by-10 foot berthing module for 12 sailors sits in its waterborne mission zone. That's where the ship can launch smaller vessels on its missions.

"Whether we're chasing drug runners in South America or smugglers in the Gulf, this is where we do it," Lewis said.

It's also where sailors work out with two ellipticals, a punching bag, some weights, a bench press and a treadmill.

Sailors spend the rest of their downtime back in the mess. When meals aren't being served there, Stevenor says it's the place to hang out and watch whatever DVDs have been brought aboard.

"If you've been out to sea for a while, sometimes they'll put something fun together like a game night or something for the crew," he said. "We mostly play a lot of video games."

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(c)2018 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)
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Lt. j.g. Michael Klooster sets the first watch during the commissioning ceremony of USS Sioux City (LCS 11) in Annapolis, Md., on Nov. 17, 2018.
KENNETH D. ASTON JR./U.S. NAVY

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