MAYPORT, Fla. - After a year of planning and preparation, the USS New York arrived at her new homeport -- Naval Station Mayport –- on Friday.
The amphibious-ready ship can carry up to 799 Marines plus their combat gear and can launch Marine Corps Osprey aircraft from its deck. Ospreys are fixed-wing planes that can take off like a helicopter, yet fly three times faster than a Black Hawk and cruise at about 240 knots.
"What that does for us is we can put more people in here and we can have the ship a lot farther off shore and we can push in over the horizon," said USMC Capt. David Austin.
It took two days for the ship and crew to sail from the previous homeport of Norfolk, Va. Channel 4 reporter Erica Rakow and photojournalist Joe Drumm were aboard to document the historic move and were flown off the ship Friday morning aboard one of the Ospreys.
To mark the arrival of the first ships to arrive in Mayport over the next year, a ceremony by Navy officials, senators, members of Congress and local dignitaries officially welcomed the crew.
The man at the helm of the USS New York calls her a floating memorial, since part of the ship was molded from 7.5 tons of steel pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center as a tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
"It's an honor. I came in the Navy right after September 11, so being able to serve on this ship and see the pieces of steel throughout the ship and all the memorabilia we have here," said Culinary Specialist Arthur Johnson. "Every day you come through the mess decks and walk through the ship and you remember why you serve.
The New York is the first of three ships in the navy's amphibious-ready group to move here from Norfolk and should begin missions next year The USS Iwo Jima and USS Fort McHenry will move to Mayport over the next year.
"We have a great portion of our crew that's just simply excited about the transition to Mayport and everything new that's going to come with being down in Florida, and then we do have a group of folks that had to leave their families," said Lt. Justin Bernard, the ship's chaplain.
The purpose of moving the ships is to spread out the Navy's assets along the eastern seaboard, but it also gives Mayport a much-needed boost.
"Mayport has been for the last several years just cruisers, destroyers, frigates -- what we call surface combatant ships -- so this will be the first amphibious ship to be in Jacksonville," said Capt. Jon Kreitz, who commands the USS New York.
The mission this week was to move the ship between ports. While at sea, a lot of training and final preparations were done.
"Its our time -- in New York style -- to make a best first impression, so we want the ship looking good, our sailors looking good, our Marines looking good, and us ready for our arrival to Mayport that we've been waiting over a year for," said Executive Officer Christopher Brunett.
The ship comes with 360 sailors and their families. Many are excited to be stationed at what they commonly call "planet awesome"
"I don't think its fully hit me yet, but I'm excited," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy McGraw. "It will settle in eventually, I reckon."
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