Author Gary Williams shares his experience from the Keel Authentication of the USS Michael Murphy
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Updated: May 16, 2011
DEFENSE STANDARD 2010 Fall Edition
©2010 DEFENSE STANDARD All Rights Reserved
By Gary Williams
BATH, Maine --Deep gasps were the only sound as the small group touring the legendary Bath Iron Works shipbuilding facility entered the cavernous Ultra Hall. Above them, towering nearly four stories high, the name of their son, brother, grandson and friend, Michael P. Murphy, was emblazoned on the massive, 800-ton hull of what soon will become a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer.
Murphy’s family knew, of course, that the name would be there. They were at the shipbuilding facility in June for the keel authentication ceremony for the ship named after Murphy to forever recognize the sacrifice of the Medal of Honor recipient, who died June 28, 2005, during a covert reconnaissance mission that turned into the most intense and decorated battle in Naval Special Warfare history. But still. The sheer astonishment and emotional impact of seeing the Navy SEAL’s name across the hull of that ship was something none of his family members expected, even after meeting former President George W. Bush in the sobering, October 2007 Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House.
His parents, Dan and Maureen Murphy, and his brother John embraced. Maureen’s sister, Eileen, who had been Michael’s godmother, joined the embrace, their sobs and sniffles breaking the silence. Scott Kay, Bath Iron Works’ guided missile destroyer project manager and the tour guide for the day, took the opportunity to gather himself as the family embraced. He had conducted numerous tours for the families of ships’ namesakes, but the task had never become any easier or less emotional for him.
Construction on the $170 million guided missile destroyer known only as DDG-112 began with the first cut of steel on Sept. 7, 2007. In the dedication ceremony May 7, 2008, Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter declared, “Michael Murphy’s name, which will be forever synonymous with astonishing courage under fire, will now be associated with one of the U.S. Navy’s most technologically advanced, most powerful and most capable warships.”
In addition to launching guided missiles, many of the destroyers are equipped to carry out antisubmarine, anti-air and anti-surface operations. Their hull classification symbol is DDG. The ship now known as DDG-112 Michael Murphy will keep that name until the christening anticipated for May 7, 2011, on what would have been Murphy’s 35th birthday.
A ship consists of two basic elements: structure, which serves as the skeleton, and outfit, comprising all of the systems, components and equipment that enable it to perform as designed. Raw materials for both structure and outfit were fabricated into various pieces, sections and assemblies at off-site manufacturing facilities, and then shipped to Bath Iron Works (BIW) for the second stage of construction known as main structural assembly and pre-outfit 1.
Fabricated in an inverted position for ease of construction, modules were right-sided and joined together into larger sections forming the ship’s hull. The third stage, pre-outfit 2, involved joining individual outfitted sections to create even larger modules. Additional outfit materials including main engines, generators, pumps, electronic consoles, ventilation ductwork and cable were installed in the Ultra Hall.
The June 18th keel-authentication ceremony was the first of what will be several emotional ceremonies that will bring the ship to life. During the ceremony, BIW workers helped Dan and Maureen Murphy weld their initials in a steel plate that will become part of the ship. The initials of all 19 of those killed in Operation Red Wings also will be welded into the keel plate as a lasting tribute to their service and sacrifice. After the official ceremony and tour of the buildings containing the modules of the ship, the group paid their respects to another American Medal of Honor recipient by touring the USS Jason Dunham, DDG 109, structurally identical to DDG-112 and also under construction.
The all-steel Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer is the only one designed around the Aegis Combat System, SPY-1D multifunction phased-array radar, Aegis ballistic missile defense system, and a collective protection system, also making it the first class of U.S. warship built with an integrated nuclear, biological and chemical warfare air-filtration system.
Aegis, the Greek word for shield, is a highly integrated radar and missile system that relies on a separate sonar system to track underwater threats such as mines, torpedoes and submarines, and can simultaneously follow land, air and subsurface threats and attacks. The Aegis ballistic missile defense BMD adds a “sword” to the Aegis “shield” by providing a forward deployable, mobile capability to detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles of all ranges.
Within days after the ceremony, the ultra-units were transported using multiple self-propelled mobile transporters to the Land-Level Transfer Facility (LLTF) and set in place on one of the building shipways. There, Ultra Units and other ship modules will be joined together on the LLTF to form a near-finished product, with 80 percent of construction completed in preparation for launch or christening.
After the christening next spring by Maureen Murphy, the ship’s sponsor, the USS Michael Murphy will be transferred from the LLTF onto a floating dry dock along the Kennebec River. The dry dock will be flooded, allowing the ship to float off and maneuver alongside the pier, a 24-hour process. Then the ship completion, testing and activation stage will commence, work that can only be done with the ship afloat. During the latter part of this stage the Navy will assume possession and proceed with nearly six months of rigorous sea trials and testing.
The commissioning ceremony is tentatively scheduled for June 28, 2012, in New York Harbor. The USS Michael Murphy will be the seventh destroyer and 40th Navy ship named in honor of a Medal of Honor recipient. Although its fleet assignment has yet to be determined, the destroyer and its 23 officers and 250 enlisted personnel likely will be home-ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, home of Murphy’s unit, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team-1.
While the keel-authentication ceremony was emotional, the family remembered the comforting words from Winter at the dedication ceremony two years earlier: “Every sailor who crosses the brow, every sailor who hears the officer of the deck announce the arrival of the commanding officer, and every sailor who enters a foreign land representing our great nation will do so as an honored member of USS Michael Murphy.”
In the photo, L-R: Scott Kay, Program Manager for the DDG Program at BIW, Mike Clarke, Bath ME. Fire Dept, Daniel Murphy, Gary Williams and David Peabody.
See additional photos here.
About the Author
Gary Williams is the Author of SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of LT Michael P. Murphy, USN and attended the ceremony at the request of the family. He lives in Ohio.