Dianne Isakson donned a thick leather jacket and a dark helmet as she tried her hand at welding for the first time, in front of an audience in a celebratory mood.
As the newest ship sponsor, the wife of Georgia’s Republican Senator Johnny Isakson had help when welding her initials into a keel plate that would be placed on the USS Savannah at a keel-laying ceremony for Littoral Combat Ship 28 (LCS 28), produced by Austal in Mobile.
“To just be a part of this and to be asked to be a ship sponsor, it’s all very exciting to me,” she said. “It was an honor to have a very small part in making such a wonderful ship.”
When asked if it was hot in the jacket and mask in very little or no air conditioning at the facility on Austal’s campus, Isakson quickly said “yes.”
“And to think these men and women wear these every day,” she said.
Isakson, whose father and grandfather were both in the Navy, was described by Austal USA Vice President Tim McCue as having “salt water in her veins.”
Richard V. Spencer, the current secretary of the Navy, not only named the Savannah, but picked Isakson as the ship sponsor as well, Austal Communications Director Craig Savage said. The duty of naming a ship and its sponsor falls on the secretary each time.
The keel laying is one of the milestones an Austal ship goes through in its journey to the open ocean, Savage said. It follows the first cut of steel and precedes a christening.
Savage said the ships are built with modules that fit together like Lego bricks. The first cut is the start of ship construction.
“After the first cut, we start putting the modules together,” he said.
Eight of the total 37 modules have been placed on the Savannah, McCue said. The partial ship was hidden behind a giant American flag during the ceremony.
“Construction is not easy,” McCue said. “It takes nearly 4,000 of the best shipbuilders in the United States ….”
From the time of the keel laying, it takes about a year and a half before it’s delivered to the Navy, Savage said. In total, a ship’s construction takes about three years.
LCS 26, the USS Mobile, was sponsored by Rebecca Byrne, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of South Alabama and wife of Republican U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne.
“It will have its christening on Dec. 7,” Savage said. “It’s going to be a big deal.”
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