Olympians will sponsor future USS Enterprise
By HUGH LESSIG | The Daily Press (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 22, 2016
Considering how they muscled their way to Olympic gold, the sponsors of the future USS Enterprise should have no problem smashing a bottle across the bow of an aircraft carrier.
The Navy has named two dominant U.S. Olympians, gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky, as sponsors of the third aircraft carrier in the Gerald R. Ford class. Construction is slated to begin in 2018 at Newport News Shipbuilding.
The two 19-year-olds learned of the honor Tuesday in a phone call from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a spokesman told the Daily Press.
Mabus released this statement Wednesday: "These two exceptional young women inspired a nation during the Olympics and have been outstanding examples of dedication and perseverance. They have been great ambassadors for the United States of America, as will the future sailors of the USS Enterprise as they take this mighty ship around the world."
It marks the first time the Navy has reached into the world of sports to select the sponsor of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the centerpieces of naval presence around the globe.
Biles is America's most decorated gymnast. She won a record third straight all-around world title in 2015 before taking the 2016 Olympic games by storm and leading the American women's gymnastics team to gold. Individually, Biles won gold in the women's individual all-around, vault and floor exercise. She also took home a bronze medal in the balance beam.
Raised by her grandparents after her mother's struggle with drugs and alcohol, Biles took to gymnastics at an early age and never looked back. She is an Ohio native.
Ledecky won gold at the 2012 Olympics before going on to shatter a number of world records. At the 2016 Olympics, she earned four golds and one silver. She was born in Maryland and began swimming competitively at age 6.
Politico on Wednesday reported that Biles and Ledecky had agreed to serve as sponsors.
Mabus, who is winding down his tenure as Navy secretary, told the Daily Press in August that he always looks for people who contribute to the community in some way when choosing ship's sponsors.
His choices have been creative: For the future submarine USS Arkansas, he tapped the six women of the Little Rock Nine, the courageous high school students who integrated Central High School in the face of hostile opposition in 1957.
Navy tradition dictates that ship sponsors are women, and they assume several traditional roles during the life of a ship. They participate in the keel-laying ceremony, which celebrates the start of construction. During the christening, a sponsor smashes a bottle across the bow and formally gives the ship its name.
At the commissioning ceremony, a sponsor calls the crew onboard to celebrate the vessel joining the fleet.
A ship's sponsor is also expected to interact with the crew. There is no set requirement for this duty, although some have enjoyed it more than others.
Susan Ford Bales, the president's daughter and sponsor of the Gerald R. Ford, visited the shipyard several times during construction, rolling up her sleeves and helping shipbuilders. She formed such a close bond with then-Capt. John Meier that she broke into tears when he left the ship in a scheduled command change.
Although Biles and Ledecky aren't due in Newport News for some time, advance work on Enterprise is well underway.
In May, shipyard parent Huntington Ingalls Industries received a $152 million contract for design, engineering and advance ordering for Enterprise. It received an additional $65.3 million in August.
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