The U.S. Navy will christen Makin Island, the newest and last ship in the Wasp-class of amphibious assault ships, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2006, during a 10 a.m. CDT ceremony at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in Pascagoula, Miss. Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi will deliver the principal address at the ceremony. Silke Hagee, wife of Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael W. Hagee, will serve as ship's sponsor. The ceremony will be highlighted by the time-honored Navy tradition of the sponsor breaking the bottle of champagne across the bow to formally christen the ship.
Makin Island is named for the daring raid carried out by Marine Corps Companies Alpha and Bravo, Second Raider Battalion, on Japanese-held Makin Island, in the Gilbert Islands, on Aug. 17-18, 1942. The raid was launched from the submarines USS Nautilus and USS Argonaut and succeeded in routing the enemy forces based there, gaining valuable intelligence. Twenty-three Navy Crosses were awarded for actions during the raid, including to the raid's leader, Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson, and executive officer, Marine Corps Maj. James Roosevelt (son of President Franklin Roosevelt). Marine Corps Sgt. Clyde Thomason was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for heroism during the raid and was the first enlisted Marine to be so honored during World War II.
One previous ship, a Casablanca-class escort aircraft carrier (1944-1946), has borne the name Makin Island, and received five battle stars for World War II service. The United States maintains the largest and most capable amphibious force in the world. Second only to the Navy's aircraft carriers in size, the Wasp-class ships are the largest amphibious war ships in the world. These ships are specifically designed to remain off shore near troubled areas of the world, ready to send forces ashore quickly by helicopters, tilt rotor aircraft and landing craft air cushion (LCAC) hovercraft. As the centerpiece of a Navy expeditionary strike group, Wasp-class amphibious assault ships are fully capable of conducting and supporting amphibious assaults, advance force and special purpose operations, non-combatant evacuation, and a variety of humanitarian missions.
The Wasp-class ships embark, transport, deploy, command and fully support a marine expeditionary unit of about 2,000 Marines. Makin Island can accommodate three LCACs, Marine Corps fixed wing aircraft such as existing AV-8B Harrier II and future F-35B Lightening II aircraft, as well as a full range of Navy/Marine Corps helicopters, tilt rotor aircraft and amphibious vehicles to perform sea control and limited power projection missions. Additionally, the ship is equipped with a robust medical capability - second only to the Navy's hospital ships in afloat capability.
Capt. Robert G. Kopas, U.S. Navy, born in Cleveland, Ohio, raised in Phoenix, Ariz., and a graduate of Purdue University, is the ship's commanding officer. The ship has living areas for nearly 3,200 crewmembers and embarked forces. Makin Island will be homeported in San Diego, Calif. Built by Northrop-Grumman Ship Systems, the ship is 844 feet in length with a 106-foot beam. Makin Island is the first amphibious assault ship to incorporate "all electric" auxiliary systems and a hybrid gas turbine - electric propulsion system. With a combined 70,000 horsepower, this hybrid propulsion system will drive the 42,800-ton ship to speeds in excess of 20 knots. These advanced auxiliary and propulsion systems will reduce ship manning, maintenance and operating costs compared to the seven previous Wasp-Class amphibious assault ships.