It’s a big deal!

It’s a REALLY big deal!

To have a US Navy combat ship named after your city is a really big deal!

The message was made quite clear by numerous speakers at what was essentially the launch of the fundraising campaign to cover costs to celebrate the commissioning of the USS Billings, a year from now. The event was held the evening of Veteran’s Day at the Northern Hotel, hosted by Billings Mayor Bill Cole.

Present and underscoring the importance of the event was former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Michael Stevens. Now retired, after serving 34 years in the Navy, Stevens was the 13th MCPON, the most senior enlisted member of the U.S. Navy, who is the spokesperson representing 400,000 enlisted personnel, to the highest positions in the Navy. Even more significant about Stevens’ presence is that he is from Montana – Arlee, Montana. His father was, in fact, born in Billings.

Stevens repeatedly emphasized to his Billings’ audience what a rare and unique honor it is to have a US Navy ship named after your city.

The USS Billings was christened on July 1, 2017 and is now in the process of being equipped and prepared for active duty, at which time it will be formally commissioned, sometime in November 2019. The Commissioning Ceremony is traditionally heralded by much pomp and circumstance and is taken very seriously by the US Navy and everyone who has a role in the 20-year process of building and preparing the ship.

Part of that tradition is that the namesake community covers the cost which includes setting aside a fund that helps support the crew of the USS Billings. (All Commissioning related expenses, such as events, receptions, and gifts are fully paid by the Commissioning Committee. Federal Law prohibits any funding by other government institutions.)

The goal of the USS Billings Commissioning Committee is to raise at least $300,000, the first $500 of which was garnered with the auctioning off of a print of the USS Billings, following the Veteran’s Day event. While the challenge of covering the cost is perhaps more daunting for Billings than it is for larger cities which have been so honored, “We will do what we can do and we will do it well,” declared Committee Coordinator Ron Spence.

Exactly how much funding will be needed remains uncertain, said Spence. They are waiting for the Navy’s decision on where the commission ceremony will take place – somewhere on the Eastern seaboard – in order to communicate with that city to find out about available venues, that city’s involvement and details as to costs.

Besides the covering of costs for the commissioning ceremonies, it is also traditional to leave a reserve fund that helps to support the crew in the future, such as helping pay for scholarships for training.

Stevens explained that for the approximately 150 crew members of the USS Billings the ship is their piece of the US, no matter where they are in the world and it is very important to them, and as its namesake they consider themselves as part of the Billings community. Some members of the crew have already visited Billings and have participated in a number of community events. More will be visiting in the near future.

“The name of the ship is like a name of their family…..The ship is your ship and the sailors want you to feel the same pride,” said Stevens.

USS Billings (LCS-15) is a Freedom-class littoral combat ship of the United States Navy. Stevens likened the ship to “a trained wolf roaming the oceans.” It is part of a new class of 389-foot  warships designed to operate in shallow water areas at high speeds (52+ knots -- the exact speed is classified). The Combat Ship is described as a resilient flexible warship, designed from the keel up to take on new capabilities – from the most advanced sensors, to the latest missiles, to cutting-edge cyber systems. Its speed, strength and versatility make it a critical tool to take on emerging new challenges in the world.

It can operate in just 14 feet of water, powered by two MT30 gas turbines designed by Rolls Royce, which power waterjets that propel it to speeds that exceed 40 knots, making it the fastest surface combatant in the Navy’s fleet. Its flexibility will enable it to perform a wide range of missions with some of the Navy’s most advanced technology onboard. It’s advanced technology allows it to operate with as few as three sailors on the bridge and it only needs a core crew of 50.

The crew has selected as its mascot the Kraken -- a legendary cephalopod-like giant sea monster that is said to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland.

Given that the number of US Navy ships have fallen in number over the years from over 6000 to only some 600 by 2025, the odds of any future ship having any Montana –related name is “slim to none,” said Stevens.

Only four US Navy vessels have ever had Montana-related names, with only two remaining --  the USS Billings and the USS Montana, a Virginia Class nuclear attack submarine, SSN 794, which like the USS Billings is under construction.

Serving on the USS Billings Commissioning Committee are: Mayor Bill Cole, Chairman; City Councilman Mike Yakawich, Co-Vice Chairman; County

Commissioner Denis Pitman, Co-vice Chairman; Ron Spence, Committee Coordinator; and other committee members City Councilman Larry Brewster, George Blackard, Katy Easton, and Dan Brooks.

Besides donations the committee is seeking volunteers. They also have an assortment of USS Billings memorabilia which can be purchased on line at: https://ussbillingslcs15.org/shop/

Contributions may be mailed to: USS Billings Namesake Committee, P. O. box 30115, Billings, MT 59107.