Sailing America: Beginning of newest amphibious assault ship’s legacy on sea

By Command Master Chief Chad Lunsford
Future USS America (LHA 6)

My name is Chad Lunsford and I am the command master chief of the newest amphibious assault ship in the U.S. Navy, the Future USS America (LHA 6)! I have been aboard this ship since she was first introduced as a ‘pre-commissioning unit.’ I often get asked, “What does it mean to be a part of a pre-commissioning unit?” Honestly, this journey has been incredibly rewarding and one of the highlights of my career…

The amphibious assault ship Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) America (LHA 6) returns to Ingalls Shipyard from acceptance trials, Jan. 31, 2014, where the ship's main propulsion, communications, steering, navigation and radar systems were tested. America will be the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Lewis Hunsaker/Released)

The amphibious assault ship Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) America (LHA 6) returns to Ingalls Shipyard from acceptance trials, Jan. 31, 2014, where the ship’s main propulsion, communications, steering, navigation and radar systems were tested. America will be the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Lewis Hunsaker/Released)

Pre-commissioning units start with a few key leadership roles and they slowly grow over time. In our case, just two years ago, there were only 26 America crew members and today America stands close to 1,100 members strong. The beginning phases were mostly critical schools that can take up to six or more months to complete.

More than 900 Sailors and Marines assigned to the amphibious assault ship Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) America (LHA 6) march to the ship to take custody of it, April 10, 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Vladimir Ramos/Released)

More than 900 Sailors and Marines assigned to the amphibious assault ship Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) America (LHA 6) march to the ship to take custody of it, April 10, 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Vladimir Ramos/Released)

As the time got closer to our move aboard date on April 10, the date when the Navy took custody of the ship, and the ship’s Sailors and Marines officially move aboard, we started gaining more Sailors. In the two months prior to move aboard, the command gained close to 450 Sailors, which was a logistical challenge to say the least.

However, once the America crew moved aboard and started living on the ship, we have spent the last three months away from our families, working very long hours, including most weekends, to train for what most ships complete over the course of a year or more. We are required to train and certify in every warfare area that existing ships certify in, however, the difference is America did all this while operating in a shipyard. The greatest challenge of a pre-commissioning unit is bringing together 1,100 individuals from various commands throughout the fleet and building one team.

Now that we are certified and safe to sail, we are prepared to get underway as a crew for the very first time. Today is an amazing day for everyone who has been involved in America’s pre-commissioning process. To witness our Sailors and Marines come together as one team and bring a ship to life is like no other experience in the world. Today, we begin our transit from the shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., around South America, to our new homeport of San Diego. Once we arrive in San Diego, we will begin preparing for our commissioning ceremony in San Francisco, Oct. 11.

America will bring a different set of unique capabilities to the strategic table for the U.S. Navy. We have increased aviation capabilities and communication centers to quickly move larger groups of Marines and their equipment to the needed locations throughout the globe. We are designed specifically with the MV-22 Osprey and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in mind and have the capabilities to sustain longer air operations.

In my opinion, there is no greater reward than to take a group of 1,100 individuals from commands spread throughout the fleet and develop a team of warfighters who are ready to answer our nation’s call. I am impressed daily with the hard work, motivation, and professionalism of our Sailors and Marines, America’s sons and daughters.  I am proud to be part of America – “Our Ship, Our Country!”

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Sailing America: Beginning of newest amphibious assault ship’s legacy on sea