In 2001, the United States Navy built its last ever conventionally powered steam ship, the USS Iwo Jima. Along with featuring two geared steam turbines which churn out 70,000 horsepower, the ship was equipped with four missile launchers, two .50-caliber machine guns, and two 600 pound boilers. The USS Iwo Jima is the seventh Wasp class ship of its particular design, meaning that it is a multipurpose amphibious assault ship capable of landing up to 800 Marines in hostile territory via landing craft or helicopters. On Friday, this "40,000 tons of American fighting steel” (as coined by ship Captain Jim McGovern) left its port in Norfolk, Virginia and made its way to Jacksonville, Florida to settle in its new home at the Mayport Naval Station.
For some, this transition is like coming home. Executive Officer of the ship, Captain Dana Gordon, stated, "For us it's like a second home, so once the announcement was made - I was probably the biggest advocate of going down there." The move even seems natural for those who have never been stationed in Mayport, as exhibited in the statement made by sailor Christopher Starmer: "All my instructors always said they tried most of their careers to get to Mayport, so it seems like a very exclusive place to get to."
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While a simple move down the eastern coastline may not seem like a big deal, it is. Militarily, the move gives the US a leg-up in terms of response time: "Strategically, what it does it is places an ARG 2 days closer to action should be there something that goes on," explained Captain McGovern.
Along with bettering troop readiness, the move is expected to bring great economic boons to the Jacksonville, Florida area. “We have a lot of mom-and-pop stores along Mayport Road that have been waiting for such an infusion... We’re here to serve,” stated Atlantic Beach Mayor Carolyn Woods.
"It's a great opportunity. More businesses will open, more people will move here, it's going to boost everything," said the owner of Bongirno's Philly Steak Shop, Deanna Bongirno.
The USS Iwo Jima did not make the move alone. Three ships total have been relocated to the Mayport Naval Station - the USS Iwo Jima, the USS Fort McHenry, and the USS New York. In total, nearly 2,000 new people have moved to the area, bringing great economic benefits to Jacksonville. These three ships will be joined by six littoral combat ships in 2016, displaying the military's concerted effort to create a more readily available naval force to deal with an ever-shifting political climate.