SIOUX CITY | Thursday morning's chilly breeze and temperatures in the 20s were certainly a little cooler than what future USS Sioux City crew members based in Jacksonville, Florida, are used to.
But they didn't let that chill their enthusiasm while helping Sioux City cemetery workers unpack and set up 163 American flags along South Lakeport Street for the Veterans Day Avenue of Flags.
"We're here to honor veterans who have gone before us. We're here to honor them and assist the community to pay tribute to their heritage," said Executive Officer Chavius Lewis, one of six crew members helping with the flags.
They are among 10 future members of the USS Sioux City's crew who arrived in Sioux City Wednesday night to learn more about the ship's namesake city and meet the people who live here. They'll also meet with local members of the USS Sioux City Commissioning Committee that is raising $800,000 to $1 million for the ship's commissioning, which will take place next spring or summer in Annapolis, Maryland. The Navy has yet to announce the commissioning date, but officials are reportedly considering mid-May.
While in Sioux City, crew members are visiting schools, meeting veterans and the media and will serve at the color guard at a Musketeers hockey game. It's a unique chance to learn about Sioux City and the people the crew will be serving, said Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Lane, a Deerlodge, Tennessee, native.
"It's definitely an exciting experience. It's something we don't always get to do," Lane said. "We heard a lot about Sgt. Floyd (a member of the Lewis and Clark exploration party who died in the area while on the expedition), so I'm interested in going over and seeing the monument."
Lewis, a Sylvester, Georgia, native, said the crew got a local history lesson while eating breakfast with veterans Thursday morning. Connecting with local veterans and residents is an important part of the crew's visit, which ends Sunday.
"We came to Sioux City to interact with the local community on Veterans Day," Lewis said. "It's important to establish a bond and build a relationship not only with the commissioning committee and the city, but the city's residents."
Fundraising for next year's commissioning was boosted Thursday, when Beef Products Inc. owner Eldon Roth announced the company's $100,000 pledge to the commissioning committee, which is raising the money locally and in the Annapolis area to pay for the commissioning festivities and establishing a legacy fund to pay for educational opportunities for the ship's crew members and their families.
The USS Sioux City, which was christened and launched at a Wisconsin shipyard in January 2016, remains in Wisconsin, where it is undergoing sea trials on Lake Michigan. Lewis said he and other crew members will travel there later this month to observe Navy inspectors test the ship's systems.
Lewis and others who will make up the USS Sioux City's first crew are currently assigned to the Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 2 in Jacksonville. Many have trained on other ships in the USS Sioux City's class in preparation for the ship's first mission after its commissioning.
The ship is the 11th in the class of littoral combat ships, which are designed to operate in shallower water close to shorelines. The USS Sioux City will have a 98-person crew and be used for maritime security throughout the world.
Once commissioned in Maryland, the USS Sioux City will travel to its home base in Mayport, Florida, before it's deployed. Lewis said it's not yet known where the ship and its crew will be deployed.