SAN DIEGO - The Navy commissioned its newest Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) ship USS Miguel Keith (ESB 5) May 8 at Naval Air Station North Island.
Due to COVID-19 limitations, 50 guests were able to attend the ceremony for the ship named in honor of Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient Lance Cpl. Miguel Keith, who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam exactly 51 years to the day his namesake ship joined the fleet.
"This ship is named after an inspiring leader - a Marine," said Adm. Craig S. Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, who delivered the ceremony's principal remarks. "Lt. Gen. Heckl ran through Miguel's career and a more detailed action of that day. But can any of us truly imagine? Close your eyes for a minute and try to think. The sound of gunfire like the worst violent storm any of us have ever been through. The searing heat, suffocating humidity, the chaos, and confusion of battle. The smell of death and destruction. When many would have stepped back, Miguel stepped up. He led the charge courageously focused on his team above all else, and he made a difference. A difference that is continued today."
Guest speakers for the event also included The Honorable James Geurts, performing the duties of the Under Secretary of the Navy, and Lt. Gen. Karsten S. Heckl, Commanding General, First Marine Expeditionary Force.
"What a great day for our Navy, our Marine Corps, and our nation," said Geurts. "It's an exciting time for our Navy and Marine Corps right now as we are retooling as a Naval force. This ship joins that force, as we look to the future. We are going to ask a lot of this ship. We are going to ask a lot of this crew. I am confident that they are up for the charge."
"It is only fitting that the motto of this beautiful ship is "Semper In Pugna," which translates to "Always in the Fight"," said Heckl. "Lance Cpl. Miguel Keith died a true American Hero. His warrior spirit will carry current and future generations of service members aboard this ship as they deploy around the world in service to our great nation.
During the ceremony, USS Miguel Keith's commanding officer, Capt. Troy A. Fendrick, reported the ship ready, and Mrs. Eliadora Delores Keith, the ship's sponsor and Miguel Keith's mother, gave the traditional order to "Man our ship and bring her to life!" via a tearful pre-recorded message.
"This is by far the greatest honor for myself and my entire family," said Jesse Mendez, Lance Cpl. Keith's brother. "I want to thank everyone so much on behalf of my family for dedicating this ship in my brother's name, recognizing him as a war hero and who saved lives for the United States of America.
The Secretary of the Navy approved the commissioning of all ESBs following a determination that the ships could not do their full mission set as USNS-designated ships. Therefore, the commissioning of these ships allows for greater mission flexibility and is consistent with international law.
"Preparing a warship to enter the surface fleet is a privilege and the Miguel Keith crew has done an exceptional job during this challenging time," said Fendrick. "I am proud of our Sailors' and Civil Service Mariners steadfast dedication to ship and each other. I am honored to serve as their commanding officer as we bring the ship to life."
The ceremony concluded, with a musical tribute to Lance Cpl. Miguel Keith's military service, as the Marine Corps Hymn played and the crew's battle cry of "For Miguel," echoed across the pier.
USS Miguel Keith is the third Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) variant of the Expeditionary Transfer Dock platform (ESD). Expeditionary Mobile Base was previously known as Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) in the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) program. ESBs are highly flexible platforms that provide logistics movement from sea to shore supporting a broad range of military operations. The ESB variant is designed around four core capabilities: aviation, berthing, equipment staging area, and command and control.