Kansas City Takes to the Seas
by Patricia O’Dell / photo by Getty Images
While Kansas City is considered the very heart of the heartland, there is an effort underway that intrinsically connects our town to the open sea. Private citizens from a variety of backgrounds have been working in conjunction with the U.S. Navy to commission the USS Kansas City. It will be the second ship to carry this name and the spirit of our town across seas worldwide Creating this partnership with the United States Navy is the top priority for the volunteers supporting this effort.
“This will be an accomplishment of Greater Kansas City,” says Ward Cook, executive director of the commissioning committee. “Not Kansas City, Missouri. Not Kansas City, Kansas. All of Kansas City. Together.”
This sense of solidarity and community runs deep through this project. The USS Kansas City was recently christened in Mobile, Alabama, where she was built by Austral USA. Now, a group of Kansas Citians have come together to volunteer to serve on a commissioning committee to raise community and financial support in order to enhance the experience for the young men and women who will serve on board.
The new USS Kansas City will be a state-of-the-art Littoral Combat Ship deployed by the U.S. Navy to keep shipping lanes open to guarantee free trade, deter aggression and keep our shores safe, and to participate in wars, when necessary.
“The naming of a ship is significant,” says Cook. “We hope this will build an enduring relationship between the men and women serving on the ship with Kansas City. In addition, we hope the commission will support the sailors in many ways.”
Once the ship is commissioned, it will be a full-fledged fighting vessel that could be deployed as soon as the next day. The Navy will supply the ship with what it needs to support its mission and basic amenities to support the sailors’ day-to-day lives, such as a television and basic exercise equipment, which is essential, but also recreational.
“The ship is the sailors’ home,” Cook says. “They are running most of the day, but in their few hours of downtime, it’s very important for their well-being to be able to relax. It’s up to the committee to provide support – additional exercise equipment, TVs, stereos – maybe even barbecue to change up the regular meal schedule.” Cook notes that this builds morale and camaraderie.
No one understands the need for this more than fellow committee member RADM Jeffrey Penfield, chairman of the commissioning committee. Penfield served in the U.S. Navy for 34 years and worked with Cook on the commissioning of the USS Wichita. He did not hesitate to get involved.
“I wanted to continue giving back. Serving doesn’t stop,” Penfield says. “I was happy to chair the commissioning of the USS Wichita, and I have a desire to keep serving the men and women who are on our ships.”
He notes that life in the Navy is not all work.
“There is off-time,” he says. “Our Navy is focused and concerned about taking care of our sailors. They have the basics covered, but we can really improve the quality of life on board with AV equipment and other needs. We helped provide the USS Wichita with a barber chair. It’s this kind of cooperation that builds a relationship between us and the ship.”
Penfield is encouraged by the Kansas City community’s response. He feels there is a strong appreciation for the sailors in the fleet and that volunteers are eager to support the men and women who will be on board.
“I joined the Navy for the adventure,” Penfield says. “But I stayed for so long because I felt part of something. I felt as if I served with the best and the brightest. No other job can match that.”
It is the same conviction that drew him to be involved in the USS Kansas City commissioning.
“Not every city gets this honor,” Penfield says. “This is a great opportunity for all of Kansas City to support the men and women on this ship. The crew will have the opportunity to come to Kansas City and be recognized for their service. This ship is specifically designed to protect our security and free trade. It’s an honor to recognize the significance and service of these sailors.”
For more information on the USS Kansas City, its commissioning and commissioning ceremony, or to support the committee’s effort through volunteering or contribution, please visit usskansascity.org.