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War ship prepped to start its career in Duluth

The U.S. Navy provided a sneak peek as it readies the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul to be commissioned Saturday in Duluth.

The main gun of the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
The main gun of the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul is featured on the forward deck. The weapon is capable of striking a target as far away as 9 nautical miles, which are several hundred feet longer than a standard mile.
Brady Slater / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The first U.S. Navy vessel to dock in the local port since 1993, when the Navy conducted regular Great Lakes tours, was outlined in festive bunting Thursday as it docked on Rice’s Point.

The hulking, nearly 400-foot war ship USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul is scheduled to be commissioned into the Navy during a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday.

On that day, most of its 110-member crew will be asked to “run aboard” in Navy tradition by sprinting up the gangway to populate the ship.

“I’m more than proud,” said Cmdr. Alfonza White, the officer in charge of the vessel, during Thursday’s media tour. “I’ve been in the Navy 27 years. The best part of the Navy are the people. Everything about this ship is foremost about the people and who takes care of it.”

A littoral combat ship, Minneapolis-Saint Paul is designed for defense and combat within 25 miles of shore. It reaches speeds near 50 mph, and its main gun on the forward deck can fire artillery that explodes on impact or in the vicinity of targets within 9 nautical miles.

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USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul Cmdr. Alfonza White smiles while seated
Cmdr. Alfonza White, commanding officer of the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul, describes instruments in the pilot house of the ship Thursday, May 19, 2022. The U.S. Navy vessel will be commissioned Saturday in Duluth, prior to transiting to its homeport, Naval Station Mayport, Florida, on Monday.
Brady Slater / Duluth News Tribune

It has its homeport at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida. But from there, the possibilities will be endless.

“We are trained to sail the high seas, and we are prepared to do so,” said White, who began his career on the since-decommissioned USS Duluth.

Built in Marinette, Wisconsin, by Fincantieri Marinette Marine on Lake Michigan, the $360 million ship has struggled through fits and starts to reach its commissioning. The ship was christened and launched into the Menominee River on June 15, 2019, at the Fincantieri yard, but a design defect associated with bearings in the combining gear's high-speed clutch surfaced during trials.

Commissioning, which will be the first for a U.S. Navy vessel in Minnesota, was delayed in both 2020 and 2021.

“The crew is resilient,” White said. “We took it in stride and now we’re here.”

The crew has spent the past two years in Florida training aboard other vessels to prepare to operate Minneapolis-Saint Paul.

Media and staff on the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul
Members of the media joined crew aboard the forward deck of the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul on Thursday in Duluth.
Brady Slater / Duluth News Tribune

“I know the ship was being built up here in the Midwest, but two years ago-plus we started building a crew, and that is really the bread and butter of what brings the ship to life,” said Command Senior Enlisted Leader Edward Pare, the vessel’s top enlisted man. “We’re going to go through a commissioning ceremony, but this crew has gelled and come together for many years, and it shows.”

The vessel is highly maneuverable, and is propelled by water jets instead of the more traditional propeller-and-rudder system.

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White explained that when the Minneapolis-Saint Paul is opened up its jets process an Olympic swimming pool’s worth of water every second.

“That’s how much thrust vector we generate,” White said.

The crew is trained to navigate the vessel in tight spaces without the aid of tug boats. On its 37-day voyage up from Florida, the crew gained valuable experience traversing the Soo Locks and other Great Lakes.

“If you’ve ever been out on Lake Superior, it is awesome,” White said. “Coming through the Soo Locks was a great experience for the crew, and then entering Lake Superior — beautiful lake, beautiful scenery. We couldn’t ask for more.”

Crewmembers preparing the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
Crewmembers prepare the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul for the commissioning ceremony Saturday at a dock on Rice's Point in Duluth. Decorated in bunting, the ship departs Monday following the celebration.
Brady Slater / Duluth News Tribune

The vessel is of a class of ship that’s named for major cities. Larger vessels are named for important historical figures, while submarines are named after states.

The naming of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul was made possible by Jodi Green, former deputy under secretary of the Navy and a Minnesota resident.

White said the Twin Cities and Duluth should be proud to be a part of the commissioning of a ship that figures to be called into action anywhere in the world.

“Worldwide access,” White said of why the vessel was in Duluth. “This is part of the world. We’re happy to sail all over the world, and this is proof that we can access so many different venues around the world.”

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