Most history majors read about it rather than make it.
Not Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Orth, a 2007 Naval Academy graduate who made history Saturday alongside the other crew members and leaders of the USS Sioux City. It is the first Freedom-class warship commissioned at the Naval Academy and the first naval ship to take the name of the fourth largest city in Iowa.
The moment was not lost on Orth, the ship’s operational officer, who wielded a ceremonial sword as he ran on deck.
“This is a once-in-a-career event,” said Orth, who was born in Richmond, Virginia, and is stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. “And commissioning it at the academy is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
It’s been more than four years since construction began on the USS Sioux City.
Naval officers began the ship’s life in the the U.S. fleet Saturday with a ceremony that started at 9 a.m. at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Dignitaries and officials gave short speeches before the crew boarded the ship. As is tradition, the crew ran aboard and stood at the ship’s railings while the rest of the ceremony concluded.
Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter thanked the crew for their service before an estimated crowd of 4,000.
The act of placing a ship in commission marks its entry into active Navy service. This ceremony continues a tradition that is some three centuries old and has been observed in the U.S. Navy since December 1975, when Alfred, the first ship of the Continental Navy, was commissioned in Philadelphia.
Annapolis served as a stand-in for the land-locked Sioux City. Residents and representatives from the Iowa city were invited to the event with an estimated 500 in attendance. The public was offered tours of the vessel through its week-long stay along the seawall at the academy’s Dewey Field. More tours were offered after Saturday’s ceremony.
Laura Grebasch traveled from the Iowa town to see the ship’s commissioning. She has a sister who lives in Annapolis.
“It is a really wonderful experience,” Grebasch said. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The USS Sioux City cost about $362 million. It is the 13th of its kind, highly maneuverable, reconfigurable and fast, according to the Navy. The ships use jet propulsion and interchangeable mission packages for surface warfare, mine counter measures or anti-submarine warfare.
The ship is 378 feet long with a beam of 57.4 feet. Its 13.8-foot draft is what makes a commissioning at the Naval Academy possible. The main channel of the river is 20 to 25 feet deep.
Its top speed is 45 knots — the fastest surface combatant in the fleet, according to the commissioning committee.
Some planned a protest outside the Naval Academy to inform people about the cost of the ship. They handed out soup and fliers that compared the ship’s cost to domestic infrastructure costs.
Commissioning a ship is a big deal. It’s the final step in a ship’s early life starting with the “laying of the keel,” symbolizing the beginning of construction. From there the ship is built, placed in the water and finally commissioned. Throughout the process it is being tested as a war-ready vessel.
It has two sets of 75 crew members — a blue and gold crew — who live on the vessel while it is underway.
Several dignitaries gave speeches at the ceremony, including U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley. Both spoke about the shared strength of the cities and the determination of the ship’s crew.
In true Buckley form, the mayor offered up a few jokes. Back in Perth, Australia, where Buckley grew up, the sailors were more popular with local ladies than the men, he said.
“They would throw tennis balls with phone numbers onto the ship,” Buckley said. “I’m here for a little payback.”
After the dignitaries spoke, the ship’s sponsor, Mary Winnefeld, gave the traditional call to give the ship “life.” Historically the Navy chooses prominent citizens to be part of special events throughout the ship’s life. Winnefeld christened the ship back in 2016.
Upon Winnefeld’s request, the Naval crew jogged toward the ship and took their place near the railings.
The ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. James “Randy” Malone, applauded the crew for its work.
“They are the MVPs,” Malone said, “who make the impossible happen.”
As Orth took his place in history, his mother, Katheryn Orth, of Moneta, Virginia, was on hand to watch. She traveled with her other son, Andy Orth, his wife and a cousin to watch the ceremony.
She knew how important it was for Orth to take his place on deck.
“He is fortunate to be a part of this,” Katheryn Orth said. “He has always been a fan of history.”