U.S.S. Anchorage launches centennial celebration

Photo/Courtesy/James R. Evans/U.S. Navy

Anchorage celebrates its centennial in 2015, but like any Alaskan party, the fun is already starting.

The two-year celebration started this year, and runs through 2015.

The kick-off is in May, when the city’s namesake ship is commissioned at the Port of Anchorage.

“I think it’s a very fitting way for Anchorage to kick off the centennial,” said Julie Saupe, Visit Anchorage president and a member of the commissioning committee.

The 684-foot U.S.S. Anchorage is scheduled to arrive May 1. It will be commissioned May 4.

“To have this ship named after our community and to have a chance to celebrate with the crew, I think is very meaningful,” Saupe said.

The U.S.S. Anchorage was built in New Orleans, La., and finished in September 2012. Led by Commanding Officer  Comdr. Joel Stewart, it is the seventh San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock. Stewart took over for Capt. Brian Quinn April 18. Quinn had to step down due to a cancer diagnosis.

The Anchorage is a village of its own, with a company of 360 sailors.

The ship is already on its way from San Diego, where it is home ported, and expected to arrive on the morning of May 1.

Its five-day visit is half the length that was originally planned. Officials close to the event blamed sequestration, but the municipality had not received official word that those cuts were to blame, just budget issues.

Despite the changed dates and new commander, the ship is on-schedule to arrive in Anchorage.

“Within the ship’s crest you will see a phrase, Nil Fato Relinquemus, a Latin phrase that means: leave nothing to chance. Today, it’s time for Captain Quinn to follow the ship’s motto that he created, and leave nothing to chance with his health,” wrote Mayor Dan Sullivan in a statement.

The schedule blends traditional Navy commissioning activities, like a Captain’s reception, with Alaska components, like Alaska Native dancing and a Dena’ina blessing.

Public tours of the 684-foot ship will be offered May 2 and May 3, and could require some climbing.

The commissioning is open by invitation only, but it will also be streamed online at ktuu.com.

The festivities will mostly precede the commissioning, with a ceremony as soon as the ship arrives and a party on its first night in port.

Visit Anchorage, the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and other organizations are hosting a Dock at the Block party at the Town Square and 6th Avenue from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. May 1.

The party will include live music and kids’ activities. Vendors will provide free food for crew members, as well as food available for the public to purchase.

Saupe said the event is meant to help the crew celebrate with the community and feel welcomed from the start.

Saupe said other plans to introduce the crew to Alaska are also in the works.

That includes a train ride on Turnagain Arm, fishing in Seward, visits to the Anchorage Museum and Alaska Zoo and other day trip options.

“We want them to travel the world with great memories and share good information about Alaska,” Saupe said.

The Anchorage is already tied to its namesake. It welcomed Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps members from Anchorage’s Service High School earlier this spring, and has an Alaskan seaman onboard.

But it’s also a world-class vessel.

The San Antonio-class ships are replacing the Austin-class, and are a key element of seabase transport. With a full load, they displace 25,586 long tons and can travel at a speed of more than 22 knots.

Its landing force is 699 people, with a surge capacity of 800. It can carry two to four helicopters, depending on the type, and has space for 14 vehicles.

100 years in Anchorage

The commissioning is just one of many celebrations included in the centennial line-up for the next two years.

As the city celebrates 100 years, its also a chance to look at what makes it thrive.

Visit Anchorage Public Relations Manager Jack Bonney said that the things that drew people to Anchorage in the 1900s are much the same as they are today: mountains, glaciers, wildlife and an independent mindset.

“On one hand, we’re a young city, but our cultures go back thousands and thousands of years,” Bonney said.

The centennial will celebrate those dual roles.

The Anchorage Museum has a series of exhibits planned that feature Alaska milestones and history, including the current Arctic Flight exhibit looking at the state’s aviation history, and future exhibits on Captain Cook, Dena’ina Living and historic Anchorage.

Other upcoming milestones, including a century of flight in the state, a length military history, and the area’s long cultural history, provide many opportunities for an educational focus, Saupe said.

Many of the plans are still up in the air. Saupe said there’s talk of sailing some tall ships up Cook Inlet to commemorate Captain Cook’s voyage, but those plans have not yet been finalized.

The major milestone is the July 1915 land auction that created the Anchorage township.

Other anniversaries, like the Alaska Railroad’s centennial and the 50th anniversary of the Good Friday Earthquake will be included in the festivities.

But the celebration won’t be just about the past.

The Cook Inlet Historical Society has recommended that the municipality include a focus on its future as part of the celebration by undertaking legacy projects, and the centennial itself is something of an economic engine.

Saupe said that Visit Anchorage is using the centennial to sell Anchorage. It’s a reason people should come visit this year, or host a meeting here in 2015, rather than wait for several years down the road, she said.

“We’re quite a young city, and I think that has its own attraction now,” Saupe said.

11/12/2016 - 11:46am