The USS Milwaukee is launched into the Menominee River Wednesday at Marinette Marine Corp. Special to the EagleHerald/Robert Brumm
The USS Milwaukee is launched into the Menominee River Wednesday at Marinette Marine Corp. Special to the EagleHerald/Robert Brumm
MARINETTE - Everyone cheered as the new USS Milwaukee hit the water, but maybe none more so than the Marinette Marine Corp. workers who attended the ship launch to see the culmination of their hard work.

The USS Milwaukee was launched from the Marinette Marine shipyard Wednesday after statements from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others closely related to the littoral combat ship program.

"Today we're going to launch this ship as a testament to the noteworthy work and accomplishment that led us to this ship's production," said Joe North, vice president at Lockheed Martin. "The success of this lethal and flexible ship cannot solely be defined by our success. Her abilities will be truly brought to life by the sailors that take her through her paces."

During Walker's statements to the audience, he announced that today was proclaimed USS Milwaukee Day throughout Wisconsin.

"I hope that the Upper Peninsula of Michigan would join us in this special day as well," he added.

After the speakers had their say and thanked everyone involved in the USS Milwaukee's past and future, people watched excitedly as Sylvia Panetta, the ship's sponsor, walk up the platform to christen the boat by breaking a bottle of champagne across the bow. It took Panetta more than a few tries to break the bottle, though not from lack of enthusiasm. The ship glided down the ramp and splashed into the Menominee River.

"These are always exciting and always a little bit different," said Chuck Goddard, president and CEO of Marinette Marine Corp. "That was the most stubborn bottle I've ever seen, but Mrs. Panetta never gave up, did she? She just kept swinging. Talk about perseverance."

Goddard said he has attended more than 30 ship launches and he always feels the same excitement seeing them in the water for the first time.

"It's incredible," he said. "You can breathe easier when you know she's safely in the water where she belongs."

While many employees contributed to building the USS Milwaukee, the economical impact of the LCS program at Marinette Marine Corp. can be felt in Marinette and the surrounding region.

"It's a big deal," Walker said. "Marinette Marine Corp. is a major player not only in Marinette but throughout all of northeastern Wisconsin. As we grow the LCS program, we appreciate the commitment of the federal government and the department of defense in particular.

"That's why we've invested millions of dollars to help build the infrastructure here and the training here to help build this up. You're not going to see just more jobs but well-paying careers for all families throughout northeast Wisconsin."

Walker added that the newly funded Maritime Center of Excellence will also improve the region's growth.

"Earlier this week, we've approved $5 million to build a maritime center here in Marinette to help with training and new business so that we can ensure that not only these ships, but future ships as well, can be built here in Wisconsin," he said.

The next step for the USS Milwaukee is to undergo about a year of rigorous testing and trial runs. During this time, the Navy crew that is assigned to the LCS ship will move in and begin training on the systems.

According to Vice Admiral Tom Copeman, U.S. Navy commander, when the USS Milwaukee sets sail to join the other LCS ships, they will really be able to test its full abilities.

"These were designed to operate in twos and threes, they were never meant to go out there on their own," he said. "So as we get them in numbers, they can go out as they were designed to and it increases their combat capabilities and it increases the missions they are able to do."

Despite setbacks in earlier LCS ships, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley said the Navy is exactly where it wants to be with the program.

"You really cannot compare our beginning to where we are now," he said. "This launch and christening is where we had dreamed we would be when we started this program."

He also assured that there are no plans to change the LCS program or their acquisition of ships, despite the report from the Government Accountability Offices in the fall suggesting the program be halted until changes are made to the construction and testing of the LCS fleet.

"Nobody is suggesting that we curtail the current flock and our commitment is to complete that testing before we move into the next block," he said.