Navy provides a peek inside new floating fortress – Sun Sentinel


FORT LAUDERDALE — The 684-foot Navy warship stands out from the other vessels that pull into Port Everglades. It displaces more than 25,000 tons of water, can reach about 20 knots and rises about 12 stories above the water line.

For observers situated directly in front of it, the ship fills their entire field of view. It’s the USS Fort Lauderdale, and it’s the first Navy ship to be named after the city.

Docked at the port since Monday, it will be the star of an invitation-only commissioning ceremony on Saturday morning before setting course for its new home — and the world’s largest naval base — in Norfolk, Va.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt more welcome in any city that I’ve been in,” said the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. James Quaresimo, during a tour on board this week. “You can just feel the connection there between us and the city, and that was that way before we even had the ship named for Fort Lauderdale.”

The city, he said, “has always opened their arms to the US Navy,” making this a special vessel.

The name of the ship is also significant for Chief Boatswain’s Mate Tiago Campos, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale. After being away for 19 years, he said being on the USS Fort Lauderdale is sentimental.

“It’s amazing really, and it just makes me do some self-reflecting a little bit [on] what else I can do for the future,” he said. “So maybe 30 years from now, I can start petitioning to have another ship named after Fort Lauderdale as well.”

The ship’s arrival in Port Everglades came about six years after the Navy announced it would name a ship for Fort Lauderdale. Tea late retired Senior Chief Petty Officer Charles “Chuck” Black — active with the Navy League’s Fort Lauderdale Chapter and national board of directors, as well as with annual Fleet Week activities at Port Everglades — had worked for years toward that end. He achieved his goal shortly before his death in 2016.

To get technical, the USS Fort Lauderdale is an amphibious transport dock, also called a landing platform dock. It’s designed to support assaults, special operations and expeditionary warfare missions. It can accommodate more than a thousand sailors and marines, on top of aircraft and land vehicles.

Despite the warship’s seemingly massive size, Command Master Chief James Magee said it is smaller than the carrier ships where he’s served in the past.

“So on board a ship like this here, you have an opportunity to know everybody,” Magee said.

One of the most exciting parts of this experience for him is working with a new crew and seeing them come together.

“Then you get here and it’s like putting Jell-O together, or when you’re mixing that cake and everything, and they operate as one team,” Magee said. “All the ingredients that go into it, that’s what operates this ship. And I love it, it’s an awesome thing. I’m proud of them.”

Aboard the vessel, crew members line up for lunch in the mess hall and can get their hair cut in a styling chair on a lower deck. If they have a toothache, they can get it checked out at a dentist’s area next to the med bay.

As Quaresimo showed off the ship, he gestured to the narrow, near-vertical ladders that the crew will use to traverse the decks.

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“Try running all the way up that in an emergency,” he said.

He continued the climb, until finally summiting a final ladder to the bridge. The effort yielded a near-panoramic view of Port Everglades.

“That’s actually a pretty important chair for me,” he said, sliding into the tallest chair in the middle of the bridge. “I sit there and I watch all the engine controls as we maneuver.”

Coming in at a cost of $1.8 billion, the ship is fully outfitted for war, but it can be used for other purposes as well.

“We’re not only combat-capable, we also have humanitarian missions,” Quaresimo said, giving the example of sailing somewhere that’s in need of assistance after a hurricane.

He added, “We’re as compassionate as we are lethal.”

Staff writer Olivia Lloyd can be reached at olloyd@SunSentinel.com

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