National Steel and Shipbuilding Company
(NASSCO), a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics, has joined with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army to launch the USNS Soderman (T-AKR 317), the eighth and final Strategic Sealift ship to be built for the Navy by NASSCO.
At a length of 950 ft. and with a beam of 105 ft., the strategic sealift ships are the largest ships ever launched down a sliding ways in the United States and the largest ships that can fit through the Panama Canal. The nighttime launch of the Soderman took place at 9:20 p.m., as the ship was released from its inclined building ways into San Diego Bay, accompanied by a cheering crowd of NASSCO employees and spectators and a fireworks display.
All of the ships in the Strategic Sealift program are designed to carry military equipment for the Army. The ships built by NASSCO have been named after U.S. Army Medal of Honor winners. The USNS Soderman was named for Private First Class William A. Soderman, a World War II recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Belgium in 1944. PFC Soderman's widow, Mrs. Virginia Soderman, broke the ceremonial bottle of champagne over the ship's bow to christen the ship. Mrs. Kristina Carlson Fletcher, a niece of PFC Soderman, was the Matron of Honor at the ceremony.
The principal speaker at the launch was San Diego Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Ca), a member of the Defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, who has been an active proponent of the strategic sealift program as part of his commitment to a strong national defense. Congressman Cunningham is serving in his sixth term in the House of Representatives.
Other speakers at the launch included General John Handy, U.S. Air Force, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Transportation Command; Rear Admiral David Brewer III, U.S. Navy, Commander, Military Sealift Command; Rear Admiral Dennis Morral, U.S. Navy Program Executive Officer for Expeditionary Warfare Programs; Major General Michael Gaw, Commander, 377th Theater Support Command, representing the U.S. Army; and Richard H. Vortmann, president of NASSCO.