Welcome to the USS San Antonio
Rockland — Moving over the waters of Rockland Harbor on the morning of Aug. 3, a group of community leaders and lobster festival organizers witnessed the sight of the 684-foot USS San Antonio emerging from the fog.
The Navy ship — which is designed to transport and land Marines, their equipment and vehicles — may be small compared to larger carriers and ships in the nation's fleet, but compared to the lobsterboats, ferries and sailing pleasure craft making up the rest of the harbor's population its gray metal hull seems massive, looming as it is approached.
Visitors from the Maine Lobster Festival taking tours of the ship enter through what is called the "Well Deck," a hangar-like opening at the stern designed to provide a quick launching point for Marines and their vehicles.
To get from this deck to the interior of the ship, visitors walk over the landing craft air cushion. This is a hovercraft with two massive twin fan engines and enough room on its deck to carry personnel and vehicles, up to and including tanks, over both water and land at a speed of 45 mph and up to 50 miles inland, according to Executive Officer Greg Baker.
Inside are a number of vehicles, Marines who have set up a display of machine guns, multiple crew quarters, multiple mess halls and, on a deck above, a launch pad for helicopters. One enlisted sailor explained that almost any job that one would find in a city can be found on the ship. The ship includes chaplains, medical personnel, military police, chefs, computer experts and even mass communications people who act as reporters for the military.
On Aug. 3, the ship provided breakfast and tours for a group of dignitaries from the city including Mayor Brian Harden, City Manager James Smith, Lobster Festival President Tim Carroll, Festival Executive Committee member Sharon Lombardo, Maine Republican Sen. Chris Rector and State Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston.
Also in attendance were this year's Maine Sea Goddess Alexandra Dienesch-Calamari and Crown Princess Emma Mason.
Commander Neil Koprowski ate breakfast with the group and said he appreciates the way the city and festival organizers welcomed with open arms the 500 "unique individuals" the ship brought to the city for the festival week.
Rector presented the commander with a Maine State Flag. Harden gave him a copy of the Shore Village Story (a history book about Rockland) and the key to the city. The commander also gave a plaque to Harden.
It was noted that during the San Antonio's visit crew members have volunteered on the festival grounds, visited residents at the Knox Center in Rockland and worked to restore a lighthouse.
The Navy has a long tradition of working with the Maine Lobster Festival. Cmdr. Koprowski said the Navy sets aside funds to be here every year, because the visit to the festival is important.
Carroll confirmed this, saying he has already heard from the Navy concerning plans for visits in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Koprowski added that the San Antonio is expected to be deployed in March 2013 and will likely spend some time in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. He said the mission may include military exercises in those regions and humanitarian work.
Wherever the vessel goes, its crew members do community projects including providing medicine and repair work to villages along the west coast of Africa and reading to children and community visits.
The ship recently visited Baltimore for that community's celebration of the anniversary of the War of 1812.
The ship's home port is Norfolk, Va.
Among the visitors Aug. 3 was Brian Messing of Rockland, known to many as Blackbeard the pirate. He toured the ship in full pirate regalia. However, due to security precautions he was forced to leave his cutlass and pistols on shore.
News Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.