SIOUX CITY -- When considering names for the Navy's littoral combat ships, Ray Mabus focused on a number of variables.
He wanted to name the new class of warships after smaller cities located not on the nation's coasts, but far away from the seashore. He researched how long it had been since each state had had a ship named for a city within its borders.
The former Secretary of the Navy determined that Iowa, with a long history of sending men and women to the Navy, deserved a ship bearing the name of one of its cities.
Looking at a list of Iowa cities, Sioux City was the right size, Mabus said. Other than that, he can't say what led him to choose it. He'd never been here before, had no knowledge of the city, other than there had never been a ship named for Sioux City before.
It just felt right.
"Sioux City fit really nicely in this," Mabus said. "I can't give you any 'a-ha moment,' but Sioux City just seemed to fit."
What a fit it's proven to be.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of current and former Sioux Cityans will travel to Annapolis, Maryland, this week to witness the USS Sioux City's commissioning at the U.S. Naval Academy on Saturday.
And high-ranking Navy officers will see an outpouring of pride from a city thrilled that a ship bearing its name soon will join the Navy fleet.
"I think it's a source of pride for us. It's additional recognition for a community that we're all collectively proud of," said Chris McGowan, Siouxland Chamber of Commerce president and co-chairman of the ship's commissioning committee.
That pride was apparent from the very beginning. On Feb. 15, 2012, Mabus, who was Secretary of the Navy from 2009-17, announced that the 11th ship in the LCS series would be named after Sioux City.
Four months later, he made his first-ever trip to Sioux City to formally introduce the ship at a reception at City Hall.
Mabus remembers seeing so many people at the reception that many of them had to stand on the staircase leading up to the second floor.
"The turnout was overwhelming," Mabus said. "You want the city to have that connection and you want them to continue to have contact with it."
Ever since that day more than six years ago, that connection has only grown stronger.
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McGowan has watched it grow from day one. Standing at that City Hall reception, he said he could tell by the enthusiastic crowd that Sioux City was going to be one heck of a namesake city.
"We certainly recognized that this was significant for our community," he said.
From that day, the interest and excitement built. A sizeable group of Sioux City residents traveled to Marinette, Wisconsin, for the ship's christening and launch on Jan. 30, 2016. That day, McGowan said, gave him a good idea of the area's support for the ship. Mayor Bob Scott shot video of the USS Sioux City splashing into the water and posted it on Facebook. Within 24 hours, the video had some 30,000 views, McGowan said.
"That was a strong indication for the robust interest our community has in this ship," McGowan said.
As work on the USS Sioux City concluded and testing commenced, preliminary preparations for commissioning began. In January 2017, the Navy announced the ceremony would take place in Annapolis at the Naval Academy. The USS Sioux City would be the first warship ever commissioned there.
Not long after that announcement, retired Rear Adm. Frank Thorp was named chairman of the commissioning committee, tasked with raising $800,000 to pay for a week's worth of commissioning celebrations. An Annapolis native and Naval Academy graduate, Thorp had never been to Sioux City and wasn't sure what to expect when starting the campaign to raise all that money.
"I didn't know a lot about Sioux City," he said.
Thorp figured he'd have to do some serious arm-twisting to get businesses and individuals on board as sponsors and donors. What he found was a community more than willing to be a part of a historic event. As McGowan ushered Thorp into meetings with business leaders, many were ready with proposals, and commitments. Thorp's job wasn't so much one of convincing people to donate, but more about informing and educating the people he met about Navy commissioning traditions and what the week of activities would include.
"After 28 years in the Navy, I am absolutely overwhelmed by the positive response and the enthusiastic relationship by the people of Sioux City," Thorp said. "I've not seen a community that's stood together for a cause like this."
McGowan proudly says that Sioux City was asked to raise about $250,000 of the total commissioning budget. More than double that has been raised. A number of area food processors are taking part in the post-commissioning reception, sending their products to Annapolis to be tasted and enjoyed by those unfamiliar with Sioux City.
"The community has responded in a way that has exceeded the expectations of salty veterans who have done this many times," McGowan said.
Though he was unfamiliar with Sioux City, Mabus perhaps foresaw something like this. Lots of cities support the Navy, he said. But name a ship for a city far from the coast, a city that's never had a ship named after it before, and you'll see an enthusiastic response.
Mabus won't be attending the commissioning, and he hasn't been back to Sioux City since he introduced the ship. He's aware, however, how this city and its residents have adopted this ship and its crew.
"I know that the support has been overwhelming," he said. "That's a nice feeling, that you managed to make a decision that touched people."