January 12, 2009

USS Green Bay crew gets it into shipshape

Final paint job, training among tasks aboard vessel

By Tony Walter

SAN DIEGO — Todd Kamins knows enough about pro football and the U.S. Navy to know a good match when he sees one.

"Green Bay is a good name for this ship," said Kamins, a Virginia-native who was the command duty officer on the USS Green Bay on Saturday.

"It's like the NFC North, blue-collar."

The USS Green Bay, which will be commissioned Jan. 24 in Long Beach, Calif., is the Navy's fourth such Landing Platform Dock (LPD) whose purpose is to transport Marines for amphibious or air deployment.

It's not the most romantic of roles, agreed Lt. Cmdr. Randy Zamora, the ship's executive officer.

But that hasn't detracted from the atmosphere of anticipation that is present on the USS Green Bay during its pre-commissioning days.

"It's got a new car smell and we're kicking the tires," Zamora said.

"But it's exciting because we're starting from scratch. So there's also an atmosphere of excitement."

The ship's crew is busy getting ready for its debut in Long Beach.

The entire ship — 684 feet long — is getting its final paint job. Crew members, 70 percent of whom have never been to sea, are in training throughout the massive vessel.

"It's state-of-the-art," said Ensign Robert Stevens, who pointed out the USS Cleveland nearby, a 41-year-old LPD that was about half the size of the USS Green Bay.

References to Green Bay are already evident on the ship, although the truckload of mementoes that were brought here by Schneider National weren't scheduled to be loaded on the ship until today.

Most of the Green Bay evidence includes Packers logos and pictures, including a lifesize picture of Brett Favre on a door to the supply room.

The fact that Cmdr. Joseph Olson, the ship's captain, is a native of Madison has played a major role in the ship's crew embracing its Green Bay connection.

The USS Green Bay is so large that it had to remove its side railings in order to fit through the Panama Canal on its journey from New Orleans, where it was built, to its home base here.

Following the commissioning, the USS Green Bay will return here and continue to train before it makes its initial deployment in September 2010, most likely to the Arabian Sea, Zamora said.

"It takes time to train a crew that's new," said Kamins, a 17-year Navy veteran. "You have a lot to do to be battle efficient.

"It's like football. You practice to make it perfect."