Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex Van’tLeven
JUNEAU, Alaska – The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS O’Kane (DDG 77) arrived to kick of its scheduled port visit to Alaska’s capitol city here, May 13.
“A lot of community members participated and we’re just thankful the Navy is in town, and we want them to know they’re welcome and we’re thankful to them for keeping us safe,” said Carl J. Uchytil, City and Borough of Juneau Port Director, who was appointed by the Mayor of Juneau to head the city’s welcoming committee.
The port call comes after O’Kane’s participation in the biennial multi organization training event called Exercise Northern Edge. The ship and its crew will be in town May 13-18. A contingent from the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band was also part of the port visit.
The O’Kane, home ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is the first ship to visit Juneau since the namesake Austin-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Juneau (LPD 10) visited in 2008 before its decommissioning.
“It’s been about 10 years since a Navy vessel has been here so there aren’t a lot of Sailors who have been here before,” said Cmdr. Colby W. Sherwood, commanding officer, USS O’Kane, “It’s also a lot colder than we’re used to. Coming from Pearl Harbor, which is in the 80s or 90s (degrees), it’s colder here so it should be fun for them.”
The ship anchored in the Gestineau Channel directly off the shores of the city where it was greeted by local community and state representatives including Alaska State Gov. William Martin “Bill” Walker.
“I hope the crew takes away the hospitality and warm reception that we always offer our visitors to Alaska,” Walker said. “I know they’ll experience that, but also I hope they’re here long enough to get the itch to come back.
“A whole lot of our population that move to Alaska is because they come up here as part of being in the military, doing a tour of duty of some sort, and when it comes time to retire they go ‘Well you know Alaska, there is something special about Alaska,’ so I know they’ll have that experience while they’re here,” Walker said.
Planning for the port visit began in the city a month prior to the ships arrival and involved various government, civic and business organizations who coordinated with command liaisons aboard O’Kane and Commander 3rd Fleet to ensure the ship received a warm welcome.
Local civic and business organizations including civic leaders, Navy League, the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and others including tourism, travel, education, arts and business representatives were involved in coordinating various events for the crew’s participation.
“We have Coast Guard ships that come to town quite frequently but I think having a gray hull added some excitement,” Uchytil said. “Because we’re kind of a Coast Guard town, we want to treat all our military personnel well. The Coast Guard district commander is here in Juneau, so we assume that the Coast Guard and their ships are pretty well taken care of, but we wanted to make sure that they’re sister service, the Navy, feels welcome and that we appreciate their service.”
Once ashore, the crew will have the opportunity to participate in various command sponsored volunteer opportunities and outings, explore Juneau’s tourist attractions and experience the cities food, culture and nightlife.
“This is actually the first real liberty port visit we’ve had,” Sherwood said. “We went underway about two months ago and about seven weeks of that has been spent conducting exercises. Out of the last seven and a half weeks we’ve been in port for four days. This is a great chance for the crew to get some liberty.”
Not only will O’Kane’s Sailors have the opportunity to experience Juneau, they will bring a glimpse of the Navy, its mission, lifestyle and culture with them into the local community.
“I hope that the local population of Juneau gets to learn a little about our Sailors and what they do, as well as, the diverse background they come from,” Sherwood said. ”We have Sailors from the Philippines, some from Africa and all across the United States, including Puerto Rico. So it’s a real diverse group of individuals.”
“For my Sailors, I hope they get some fantastic seafood and I hope they make some memories that they cherish for a long, long time,” Sherwood added. “It’s neat for our Sailors to have an opportunity to show what we do, and what do for the people of Alaska, who don’t get to see the Navy very often.”