Lots of excitement at Mayport

Multiple ships return sailors home, ship prepares for NCAA basketball game

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The USS Bataan arrived at Naval Station Mayport on Friday morning, kicking off the city of Jacksonville's Week of Valor.

MAYPORT, Fla. - More than 300 Sailors stationed on board the Mayport-based USS Vicksburg returned to Naval Station Mayport on Monday morning after an eight month deployment with the USS Enterprise carrier strike group.

This comes in the midst of other exciting events happening at Mayport this week.

The USS Bataan arrived at Naval Station Mayport on Friday morning, kicking off the city of Jacksonville's Week of Valor.

The 844-foot-long warship will be calling Mayport home for the next week. The ship is playing host to the 2012 Navy-Marine Corps Classic men's college basketball game next Friday between the Florida Gators and Georgetown Hoyas.

The teams will play on the ship's flight deck at 9 p.m.

IMAGES: USS Bataan arrives at Mayport

Crews and contractors began work almost immediately Friday to transform the ship into a basketball arena before next Friday.

The amphibious assault ship is based in Norfolk, Va. There was some concern it wouldn't make it to the River City in time because it was ordered to deploy from Norfolk on Friday because of Hurricane Sandy.

But with much anticipation, the 1,000-member crew pulled into Naval Station Mayport at 9 a.m. Friday.

Mayor Alvin Brown welcomed the ship with Navy officers and Mark Lee, vice president of brand development and marketing communications for Florida Blue, the local presenting sponsor of the city's Week of Valor.

The mayor also gave the ship's commanding officer and his crew a key to the city.

"We're committed to really supporting our women and men who serve our country with distinction, supporting our veterans, really making sure people know it's not just words but deeds," Brown said. "And as mayor of this city, I'm committed 100 percent to make sure we actually do that."

The nationally televised game on the ship is the featured event of the Week of Valor, but there will be several things happening throughout the week, including a luncheon Monday, Military Appreciation Night at the Jaguars-Colts game Thursday, and a Veterans Summit at the University of North Florida.

"It'll be exciting; 3,800 people on a flight deck watching a basketball game is going to be an amazing thing," said Bataan Commanding Officer Erik Ross.

The Bataan is part of the representational amphibious ready group ships that U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently announced will be homeported in Jacksonville. So the ship being in town is a prelude of what's to come next year.

"The excitement is an understatement," said Capt. Doug Cochrane, Commanding Officer of Naval Station Mayport. "The atmosphere here at Naval Station Mayport right now is just absolutely electric. What it means to us is confirmation of that great synergy between the city of Jacksonville and U.S. Navy."

For a list of all the events taking place this week, go to www.coj.net.

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