SAN DIEGO, California -- The Navy’s newest, most advanced warship, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), graced the pier. Its two big guns, normally hidden away, extended out of the turrets like arms, graceful and powerful.
In front of this elegant form, a small crowd of people gathered in chairs, with the bulk of Zumwalt’s crew standing in formation, the sun making their dress blues contrasted against their white covers.
They were gathered together to watch Capt. Scott A. Tait relieve Capt. James A. Kirk as commanding officer of USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) during a change of command ceremony held on Naval Base San Diego, Dec. 20, 2016.
The heat of the sun cut through the chill blue winter sky. The cold always seems quick to retreat in San Diego, but even on warm winter days like this, it remains - just enough to remind everyone of the season, but not enough to feel concerned.
For Zumwalt’s crew, it was probably nothing compared to Bath, Maine, where they have spent most of the last three years, working together under Kirk’s leadership to get the ship ready to move to San Diego.
“No matter how hard things got or how busy things got, he was always there,” said Chief Petty Officer David Aitken, who has been with the ship for three years. “We knew everyone had a job to do, no matter who you were. There was always something that needed to get done to improve the ship to get it from Maine to here.”
In his introductory remarks, the guest speaker, Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces, spoke to the work and care of captain and crew.
“From the beginning, Capt. Kirk was asked to do a lot with a little and this often wore on the crew and wore on his mind,” said Rowden. “I want to sincerely say that I recognize the depth of their sacrifices.”
The ship is named for Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, a former Chief of Naval Operations who served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
“He reformed the Navy as both a fighting force, to ensure it remained the preeminent sea power, and as an institution, demanding of his beloved Navy that it become a shining example of fairness and justice to the nation it served,” said Kirk during his remarks at the change of command. “We who serve aboard the ship that bears his name are the custodians of that legacy.”
In an interview, Ann Zumwalt, Adm. Zumwalt’s daughter, said that her father was himself named for Saint Elmo, the patron saint of Sailors. She then described an incident that demonstrated that the legacy was already being well cultivated.
“I’m not sure if you aware of the ship’s first sea trial, but there was a fishing boat captain who was having heart issues who the Coast Guard could not rescue via helicopter, “ she said. “So, the Coast Guard radioed for nearby ships and Capt. Kirk, Zumwalt’s captain, said they were near and could help get the fishing boat captain…”
Tait said nothing could have been accomplished without all the individuals and organizations who worked to get Zumwalt built, commissioned, and to it’s homeport of San Diego.
“I’m not one for sports analogies, but I have learned the appreciation of being a part of a team,” he said.
He then went on to express his gratitude for the crew and Kirk.
“I could not be more excited, or feel more blessed, to be leading this incredible team through this unique chapter in our Navy’s history,” Tait said. “That next chapter would not be possible if not for the effort that has gone into bringing Zumwalt to her current state. Words cannot express my gratitude, or my admiration, for the ship and crew that Capt. Kirk is turning over.”
When Kirk spoke, he once again, as he has already in previous interviews, blogs and speeches, expressed his admiration for the crew.
“This is a more seasoned crew both older and more senior than other ships,” he said. “Some have spent much of the last three years away from their families. Some uprooted their families to Maine. To spend a year or two that turned into three.”
“Birthdays, babies, lots of babies, graduations came and went. Snow storms!”
“These 147 Sailors tamed this beast, completed all crew certification requirements, and sailed down the Kennebec River into open water on the seventh of September.”
“They worked… they worked so hard.”
There seemed a slight hitch in his voice here. He spoke of issues faced, Sailors coming back from liberty—without being asked—to get what needed done, done.
“I cannot tell you the sacrifices they have made. “
“They are dear to me beyond words.”
Here he stopped. Overcome with emotion, he waited a few solemn moments before continuing. When he spoke again, his voice was drenched in feeling:
“I will treasure every moment we spent together.”
The crowd stood and applauded, many turning around to face where the crew was standing, the adulation all at once for a team long yoked together on a journey through difficult times on the way to a warmer place, now reached.
Kirk will report to Surface Warfare (OPNAV N96) in the Pentagon for his next tour of duty.
USS Zumwalt will soon begin installation of her combat systems, testing and evaluation, and operational integration with the fleet.
Once fully integrated, Zumwalt's stealth, power and lethality will provide a vital link from the Navy's current needs to its future capabilities.