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Say hello to the future USS St. Louis, Naval Station Mayport’s 8th littoral combat ship

The Navy prepares to christen the future littoral combat ship USS St. Louis (LCS 19), in Marinette, Wisconsin, Dec. 15, 2018. Once commissioned, LCS-19 will be the seventh ship to bear the name St. Louis. (U.S. Navy/Released)

Naval Station Mayport, the Navy’s East Coast home for littoral combat ships, added a brand-new eighth ship Friday as the future USS St. Louis pulled into the base after a trip from a shipyard in Wisconsin.

The ship, LCS 19, is almost 390 feet long with a crew of 70. It will become the St. Louis when it is officially commissioned at Mayport Aug. 8.

Littoral combat ships are designed to operate with smaller crews and in shallower water than the frigates that previously predominated at Mayport. The St. Louis is a mine-countermeasure ship.

“In the future we will be bringing on the modules and equipment in order to do mine hunting and mine sweeping,” said the ship’s commanding officer, Kevin Hagan.

“What we would bring to the fight is, in the event of another country mining a strait or mining a harbor, something like that, that’s where we would be able to come in, using aircraft and onboard equipment in order to counteract that.”

The St. Louis is the seventh ship to bear that name, the first being a sloop of war commissioned in 1828.

At Mayport, it joins other littoral combat ships named after the cities of Billings, Detroit, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Milwaukee, Sioux City and Wichita. The Navy’s West Coast home for such ships is in San Diego.

The St. Louis was built by defense contractor Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wis. It traveled through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River to get to the Atlantic, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic the crew mostly stayed aboard for the trip.

“We still have to do our jobs, we still have to come to work every day, so we have to put in a lot of precautions: temperature checks every day, asking health questions every day to make sure everybody’s healthy,” Hagan said. “The crew gets a little antsy being stuck on the ship for the most part, but we came around safely, kept everybody healthy.”

There have been no positive tests for the virus on the ship, he said.

Ladonna Stallings was at the dock with a bouquet of flowers for her daughter, Quarnekia Foster, a petty officer on the St. Louis. She hasn’t seen her daughter since March.

“I’m very proud of her,” Stallings said. “I miss her. Until the ship pulled out, I was talking every day with her.”

Foster’s younger sister, Rashonna Stallings, 19, was there as well. “She’s basically my best friend,” she said.

Despite their relatively small crews, the continuing presence of littoral combat ships cycling in and out of deployment will be important to businesses and neighborhoods near Mayport.

The regular presence of some of the hundreds of sailors in the LCS fleet will be a contrast to the boom-or-bust population cycle common with much larger craft.


© 2020 The Florida Times-Union