General Dynamics NASSCO, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics (NYSE: GD), launched the U.S. Navy’s newest supply ship, USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10), during a christening ceremony at the shipyard. The ship is named in honor of Dr. Charles R. Drew, the African American surgeon and hematologist who pioneered the procedures for the safe storage and transfusion of blood.
Vice Adm. Regina Benjamin, the Surgeon General of the United States, was the ceremony’s principal speaker. Mrs. Bebe Drew Price, the eldest daughter of Dr. Drew and the ship’s sponsor, christened the ship by breaking the traditional bottle of champagne against the bow before the 689-foot-long ship slid into San Diego Bay. More than 1,300 people attended the ceremony.
In 1938, while on a fellowship at Columbia University’s medical school in New York, Dr. Drew (1904-1950) worked on a blood chemistry and transfusion research team that sought methods to preserve blood over long periods of time. Red cells, one of the four elements of blood, begin to break down after 24 hours and cause stored blood to be unsafe for use after one week. Dr. Drew achieved success using the plasma element of blood which, since it does not contain red cells, could be safely stored for months and given to anyone regardless of their blood type. In 1941, Dr. Drew set up the first blood bank for the American Red Cross in New York City. The program became a model for blood banks nationwide, which became increasingly necessary after the United States entered World War II several months later.
USNS Charles Drew is the tenth ship of the Lewis and Clark (T-AKE) class of dry cargo-ammunition ships for the Navy, and the first U.S. Navy ship to be named after Dr. Drew. NASSCO began constructing the ship in October 2008 and is scheduled to deliver it to the Navy’s Military Sealift Command in the third quarter of 2010. When the Charles Drew joins the fleet, its primary mission will be to deliver nearly 10,000 tons of food, ammunition, fuel and other provisions to combat ships on the move at sea.