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USS Little Rock arrives in Buffalo Dec. 8, but getting a tour will be tough

The future littoral combat ship USS Little Rock performs a high-speed run in Lake Michigan during acceptance trials on August 25, 2017.

U.S. NAVY PHOTO COURTESY OF LOCKHEED MARTIN

By LOU MICHEL | The Buffalo News (TNS) | Published: November 27, 2017

The chances of getting a tour of the new USS Little Rock when it arrives here early next month for its commissioning are not good.

But if a close look at the ship at Canalside will satisfy your curiosity, that's doable. In order to get near the ship, you'll first have to pass through an airport-style security checkpoint at Canalside.

Security is a high priority for the Navy's newest $440 million warship, according to officials involved in arranging for the historic commissioning. It's the first time in the Navy's 242-year history that a new ship is being commissioned adjacent to its decommissioned namesake. The old Little Rock is anchored at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.

When the ship arrives at noon Dec. 8 for the start of commissioning week festivities, a temporary fence will be in place around the perimeter of Canalside, where streets in the vicinity will be closed to vehicular traffic. Marine Drive, however, will remain open, except on Dec. 16, the day of the commissioning.

Throughout the week, there will be prearranged tours for Buffalo school students and members of veteran organizations, according to Daniel Mecca, vice chairman of the local USS Little Rock LCS9 Commissioning Committee.

Will Keresztes, the Buffalo school's chief of intergovernmental affairs and community engagement, said students enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps at public and charter schools will receive priority for the tours.

"For students who have demonstrated their interest in a military career through JROTC, this is a very meaningful opportunity," he said.

The new USS Little Rock: A model of naval power, flexibility and affordability

The district, Keresztes added, will have the chance to showcase the talent of the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts Choir whose members will sing the national anthem at the commissioning ceremony, which starts at 11 a.m.

"This will be a profound moment for our students and remembered by them for their entire lives," he said of the upcoming performance.

When the commissioning ceremony concludes at about 12:30 p.m., there will be public tours of the ship, but Mecca cautioned that with an estimated 9,000 people already planning on attending the commissioning, it will be unlikely that everyone who wants a tour will be accommodated.

USS Little Rock Commander Todd Peters said his crew will do its best to accommodate everyone who wants a tour, but, "we will have to stop at some point in the afternoon, evening."

Earlier this week, the commissioning committee closed its website function for registering for tickets to attend the ceremony "due to an overwhelming demand for tickets," Mecca said.

Commissioning committee members also say they are planning a busy week for the ship's crew. It includes attendance at the Buffalo Bills game Dec. 10, a Sabres game Dec. 12, and several receptions and social gatherings.

"We are trying to live up to our moniker, the City of Good Neighbors," Mecca said.

The public is invited to a "watch party" for an Army-Navy football game from 2 to 6 p.m. Dec. 9 at Buffalo RiverWorks, 359 Ganson St.

And for those who want to get an extra good view of the ship on the morning of the commissioning, officials at the Naval & Military Park said tickets are on sale for a buffet at the Liberty Hound restaurant and museum, which is close to the site of the commissioning. Tickets can be purchased by calling 847-1773, Ext. 10.

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