The following is text of a news release from the U.S. Navy:
(NORFOLK, Va.) — With the ship’s namesake front and center, James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy, commissioned the expeditionary sea base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4), during a ceremony Saturday in downtown Norfolk.
The ship is named for Marine Corps veteran Hershel “Woody” Williams, known for his heroism during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. On Oct. 5, 1945, President Harry S. Truman presented Williams with the Medal of Honor during a group ceremony at the White House.
“This is an ESB, an expeditionary sea base,” said Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, describing the ship to the crowd. “It is a floating, moving island. Two things stand out: versatility and affordability. This ship is purpose built to be versatile and flexible, modular. We need more ships like this.”
In commissioning ESB 4, the nearly 1,200 guests saw the ship converted from a USNS to a USS asset in order for the warship to meet the challenges and requirements of serving in and around the U.S. Africa Command, U.S. European Command and the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation. Under the law of armed conflict, missions such as special operations staging and mine-countermeasure operations must be conducted by a warship.
“I am proud and confident that Hershel Woody Williams, like its namesake, will serve our country, serve it and protect it without hesitation, will overcome adversity and allow us to win,” said Geurts.
The ship, built by General Dynamics NASSCO and delivered in February 2018, is designed around four core capabilities: aviation facilities, berthing, equipment staging and command and control assets. It will primarily support a variety of aviation mine countermeasure and special operations missions freeing up amphibious warships and surface combatant ships to be reassigned for more demanding operational missions.
Hershel “Woody” Williams follows USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), which is forward deployed to the 5th Fleet Area of Operations. The 784-foot-long vessel features a 52,000-square-foot flight deck, fuel and equipment storage, magazines, repair and mission-planning spaces. Its features include a four-spot flight deck, a mission deck and hangar, work and living spaces for a couple hundred staff and embarked personnel.
Assuming command of ESB 4 is Capt. David L. Gray, a Massachusetts native. Under his command the mobile sea base will be forward deployed and operate in a Blue/Gold rotation, in accordance with Navy deployment policies.
“Am I luckier to have the ship’s namesake and national treasure, Woody, to be here with us and these distinguished Medal of Honor recipients, or am I more blessed to be given the opportunity to command again with this talented group of officers, chiefs and crew to serve our country one more time Gray,” asked the crowd. “Today, I feel like the luckiest captain in the Navy.”