SIOUX CITY | For a city pretty much in the middle of the country and with no oceans in sight, Sioux City continues to make a huge impression on the U.S. Navy and those affiliated with the USS Sioux City.
The ship is more than a year from being commissioned and officially beginning its duties. It hasn't been involved in any actions overseas. There haven't been any chances for the ship or its crew to gain notoriety.
But before the USS Sioux City heads out on its first mission, it will already be well-known in Navy circles because of the overwhelming support and enthusiasm that its namesake city has for a ship that will ultimately be based in Florida and never come anywhere near Sioux City.
In the past two years, Navy officials, future ship officers and crew members, and other dignitaries have made their first-ever trips to Sioux City. Each time, city leaders and residents have blown them away with their excitement for the ship that bears the name of their hometown.
"I had an expectation of a really warm, embracing reaction, and I've been overwhelmed. I couldn't have dreamed of a better group of people from a namesake city," said retired Rear Adm. Frank Thorp, chairman of the USS Sioux City Commissioning Committee.
Thorp and other committee members were in Sioux City last week to drum up excitement for festivities surrounding the USS Sioux City's commissioning, which will take place sometime next summer in Annapolis, Maryland, after the ship finishes sea trials on Lake Michigan.
He found out the excitement was already here.
And it has been since the day the ship's name was announced in early 2012.
Since then, crowds have gathered and given standing ovations during visits by anyone having anything to do with the ship when they visit Sioux City.
In January 2016, more than two dozen Sioux Cityans made the 11-hour drive to northern Wisconsin to watch the christening and launch of the ship.
That showing has stuck in the mind of Mary Winnefeld, the ship's sponsor, who made her first trip here with Thorp last week. She was impressed with Sioux City's support of the ship before she got here. She left even more impressed.
"Visiting Siouxland has met and exceeded my expectations," said Winnefeld, who lives in northern Virginia but grew up in Wisconsin. "It's wonderful to build this relationship and have this connection with the city."
It's a connection the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce has tirelessly promoted, one that Chamber president Chris McGowan hopes will last for decades.
"We want to be the model of a relationship between a ship, her crew and the sponsor," McGowan said. "We plan to not only meet expectations but exceed them."
Sioux City may have already done so.
Winnefeld said she has spoken to many other ship sponsors, seeing what kind of support their ships receive from namesake cities. Other sponsors have told her that once the christening and the commissioning are past, they never hear from city representatives again.
It's obvious that will not be the case with the Sioux City and the USS Sioux City.
"It's much deeper, much more personal," Winnefeld said of the relationship developing between the ship and city.
It's a credit to our city, our people, who realize how special this honor is and take pride in it.
The USS Sioux City will sail into ports around the world.
But its real home, Sioux City has continually shown, is right here.