USS Austin Celebrates 41st Birthday At Sea
Story Number: NNS060208-09
By Lt. j.g. Jennifer Stephens, USS Austin Public Affairs
ABOARD USS AUSTIN, At Sea (NNS) -- Crew members of the amphibious transport ship USS Austin (LPD 4) had twice the reason to celebrate on Feb. 5 and 6.
Feb. 6 marked Austin’s 41st birthday and the crew had the unique pleasure of celebrating the ship’s birthday in conjunction with the halfway mark for their 6-month deployment.
“This was Austin's 41st birthday,” said Cmdr. Kevin Flanagan, Austin’s commanding officer. “She's the 'oldest and best gator in the fleet' and is in the same fighting shape as she was when she was first commissioned 41 years ago.”
As the first LPD 4 class built, Austin’s also the lead ship in the class. Austin has been involved in many other firsts through the ship’s history. It was involved in the nation's space program as the recovery ship for APOLLO XII and part of the recovery forces for APOLLO IV and APOLLO XV. Austin was also the test platform for a wide range of expeditionary warfare systems entering the fleet including, the MH-53 helicopter, JEFF boats, precursors of the present day LCAC and the USMC AV-8 Harrier jets.
“Austin continues to lead the way while conducting MSO (maritime security operations) in the North Arabian Gulf,” said Flanagan. “No other ship has conducted the wide range of 'sea basing' operations for as long a time as Austin has. The common denominators in all these firsts are the great crews that have served onboard Austin throughout the years.”
Maritime security operations set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. Austin's mission denies international terrorists the use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.
“The celebration of the ship's birthday and halfway day for deployment was a great way to take a break from our normal routine and allow the crew to have a Steel Beach Picnic and participate in many of the great activities we had planned that day from the "Austin Olympics" to the Gong Show,” said Lt.Cmdr. Dan Evans, Austin’s executive officer. “The biggest surprise of the day had to be the Operations Department winning the departmental tug-of-war competition - they have us all thinking that Cup of Noodles may be the breakfast of Champions.”
The celebrations began by hosting “Austin Olympics." Some of the events included a pull-up competition, Austin’s strongest man competition, 3 on 3 basketball challenge, tug-o-war and a fire fighting ensemble dress out competition.
“Strong minds start with a strong body,” said Chief Boatswain’s Mate Mose Letoi, Austin’s “strongest man” after bench-pressing 405 pounds.
Later a steel beach picnic hosted by the second class petty officers was held on the flight deck followed by a ‘gong show’ type competition to demonstrate the Sailors’ unique talents. Acts ranged from rappers, dancers, a skit performed by the junior officers and Austin’s own band, Crow Bar, singing their rendition of Free Bird. All participants were eager to become the winner of the coveted $200 cash prize for first place at the same time avoiding the dreaded gong.
“I had the privilege and honor of re-enlisting 35 Sailors as part of our birthday celebration Feb. 5,” said Flanagan. “It was a thrill to administer the oath to those Sailors. They are truly the best and brightest America has to offer our nation.”
“The 35 Sailors make up 9 percent of the crew and this is a milestone achievement for any command and is first for me,” said Command Master Chief Ali Nelson. “I have never been at a command where almost 10 percent of the command reenlisted on the same day. They continue to amaze me and make me proud everyday.”
The crew gathered in upper vehicle stowage for the mass reenlistment and awards ceremony. Selective reenlistment bonuses for those that reenlisted totaled more than $375,000. Several Sailors received their enlisted surface warfare specialist qualification (ESWS) and prizes were handed out to all the winner of the Olympic competitions.
The crew then enjoyed a dinner of pizza and wings hosted by the first class petty officers followed by a casino night on the messdecks. Several game tables were set up to include blackjack and poker. The winners received prizes from Morale Welfare and Recreation. For those that could stay up, the Superbowl was aired on Armed Forces Network (AFN).
Feb. 6, the crew celebrated by a huge dinner of prime rib and fried shrimp and a traditional cake cutting ceremony. After the cake, Flanagan advanced Machinist Mate 3rd Class Brandon Brown to a second class petty officer through the command advancement program.
Austin left Norfolk, Va., Nov. 4 as part of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 8. Austin is currently deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of maritime security operations.
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