SIOUX CITY | As chairman of the USS Sioux City Commissioning Committee, retired Rear Adm. Frank Thorp said it was his priority to have a strong relationship with the ship's namesake city.
Thorp said that based on the excitement local residents showed in their support for the Navy ship named after their city, he expects that relationship to remain strong for the ship's lifetime.
"I couldn't have dreamed of a better group of people from a namesake city," Thorp said during a meeting with the Journal's editorial board.
Thorp, ship sponsor Mary Winnefeld, committee chief of staff David Gray and public affairs committee member retired Capt. James Graybeal visited Sioux City for the first time Wednesday, to drum up excitement and support for the USS Sioux City's commissioning festivities, which will take place in summer 2018 in Annapolis, Maryland. The Navy will set a date later.
It's believed that the USS Sioux City will be the first ship commissioned in Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy, in at least 100 years.
"It's very unique," Winnefeld said.
And so was the reception she and the other committee members received. Winnefeld said the support she's seen for the future USS Sioux City has been overwhelming.
"Visiting Siouxland has met and exceeded my expectations," she said.
The unique design of the class of ships to which the USS Sioux City belongs makes the Annapolis commissioning possible.
The ship belongs to a new littoral combat class of ships, which are designed to operate in shallower water close to shorelines. Traditional Navy ships can't dock at the pier in Annapolis' shallow port, Thorp said, but the USS Sioux City's lesser draft will enable it to tie up to the pier.
The ship currently is in a Wisconsin shipyard, where it was christened and launched in January 2016 and is awaiting sea trials. Navy leaders had originally expected the commissioning to take place late this fall but the date was moved back in part because of concerns the locks on Lake Michigan would close for the winter before the ship was ready to depart for the East Coast.
Once commissioned, the USS Sioux City will go to its home base in Mayport, Florida, before it's deployed, likely to the Middle East.
In the meantime, a volunteer committee of people from Annapolis and Sioux City will spend the next several months planning and raising money for the commissioning, a weeklong event that includes celebrations and receptions for the crew, commanders and other dignitaries. The commissioning ceremony, which usually takes place on a Saturday, marks the official declaration of the ship's readiness for service.
"It's a classic military event -- flags, colors, a band," said Thorp, who expects of crowd of thousands to attend the event.
The committee hopes to raise $800,000 for events, commemorative items and a legacy fund to pay for educational opportunities for the ship's crew members and their families.
Donations will be sought in Annapolis, in Sioux City and from corporations, Thorp said.
Siouxland Chamber of Commerce president Chris McGowan, who led the USS Sioux City dignitaries on a tour of the city Wednesday, said he believes up to half the amount, or $400,000, could be raised in Siouxland.
"We are a community that supports the armed services," McGowan said.
Raising $800,000 is a tough task, but after seeing first-hand Sioux City's enthusiasm about the ship that will bear its name, Thorp said he had a better feeling about the fundraising goals.
"I am more confident knowing we truly have a good partner in Sioux City," he said.