The seventh and final Strategic Sealift ship in the BOB HOPE Class will be christened BENAVIDEZ in ceremonies at the Northrop Grumman Corporation Avondale shipyard Saturday, July 21, 2001, beginning at 10 a.m.
The new ship will be named in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Army Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, of Lindenau, Tex. Benavidez distinguished himself in a series of daring and extremely valorous actions while in the Republic of Vietnam assigned to Detachment B56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, U.S. Army. On May 2, 1968, while a Staff Sgt., Benavidez voluntarily led the emergency extraction of a 12-man special forces reconnaissance team that met heavy enemy resistance while gathering intelligence in an area controlled and routinely patrolled by the North Vietnamese Army. During numerous rescue efforts, he physically carried wounded members to helicopters, was critically wounded, continued to lead the rescue efforts, gathering survivors into a defensive perimeter. He distributed water and ammunition, administered to the wounded and provided protective fire. He also safeguarded classified documents carried by the reconnaissance team members. Benavidez' gallant choice to assist his comrades, to expose himself constantly to heavy enemy fire and his refusal to be stopped despite severe wounds, is credited with saving the lives of at least eight men.
Benavidez was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Gen. William Westmoreland for his heroism. When the full story of his daring and heroic actions became known, the medal was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. In 1981, former President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Army's highest medal. Retired Master Sgt. Benavidez, age 63, died Nov. 29, 1998, in San Antonio, Tex. Vice Adm. Gordon S. Holder, U.S. Navy, Commander, Military Sealift Command, will deliver the principal address at the christening.
Hilaria Benavidez, widow of the ship's namesake, is the ship's sponsor and will christen the ship. BENAVIDEZ, a non-combatant vessel, is a large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off (LMSR) Sealift ship that will be crewed by civilian mariners and operated under contract to the Navy's Military Sealift Command, Washington, D.C. The LMSR ships are ideal for loading military combat and combat support equipment needed overseas and for re-supplying necessary equipment and supplies during national crisis. The ship's six-deck interior has a cargo capacity of approximately 400,000 square feet and its roll-on/roll-off design makes it ideal for transporting helicopters, tanks and other wheeled and tracked military vehicles. Two 110-ton single pedestal twin cranes make it possible to load and unload cargo where shoreside infrastructure is limited or non-existent. A commercial helicopter deck enables emergency, daytime landings.
The 950-foot-long Sealift ships are among the largest in the Navy fleet. Longer than three football fields, BENAVIDEZ has a beam of nearly 106 feet, a draft of 34.6 feet and displaces 62,069 long tons. With 65,160-shaft-horsepower, the diesel-powered ship can cruise at speeds in excess of 24 knots with an endurance range of 13,000 nautical miles. The new ship will have a crew of 29 and accommodations for 95. Avondale President Thomas M. Kitchen will deliver opening remarks and welcome the guests. Of the approaching christening, Mr. Kitchen remarked, "Avondale is proud to be christening another fine Navy ship and proud of the great workmanship and teamwork that went into building it. We are also pleased and honored to have the Benavidez family with us for this event which honors the memory of Master Sgt. Benavidez and his heroic actions in defense of our great country."
Other speakers expected to deliver remarks at the christening are: Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Privratsky, U.S. Army, Commander, Military Traffic Management Command; Rear Adm. Dennis G. Morral, U.S. Navy, Program Executive Officer for Expeditionary Warfare, Naval Sea Systems Command; and Capt. David J. Vogel, U.S. Navy, Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair, New Orleans. Also expected to attend the christening is Mr. Jerry St. Pe, chief operating officer of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems. The Matrons of Honor will be Mrs. Denise Benavidez Prochazka and Yvette Benavidez Garcia, daughters of the late Master Sgt. Benavidez and his wife, Mrs. Hilaria Benavidez. Mr. Noel Benavidez, Master Sgt. Benavidez' son, is a guest of honor. The flower girl is Miss Lauren Elizabeth Walker, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ron Walker. Mr. Walker is a designer in Avondale's Outfitting Department and his wife, Jackie Walker, is the administrative assistant to Avondale President Tom Kitchen. Traditionally, the flower girls at Avondale christenings are the daughters of Avondale employees. Ms. Georgia Barraza, of Stafford, Tex., a friend of the Benavidez family, will sing the National Anthem.
The colors will be presented by the Alamo Silver Wings Association Honor Guard of San Antonio, Tex., and a brass quintet from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Band, will provide music for the ceremony. Navy Chaplain Virgil J. Tillman will deliver the Invocation. BENAVIDEZ, along with the other BOB HOPE Class Sealift ships Northrop Grumman Avondale is building, will support the nation's ability to deploy military equipment and supplies quickly to U.S. troops around the world. The ships function as huge floating parking garages capable of loading, transporting and off-loading any type of military wheeled or tracked vehicle and other types of cargo.
Throughout the sprawling deck areas, the ships are capable of carrying up to 1,000 military vehicles, along with containers and other cargo, to provide pre-positioning and surge sealift capacity to contingency areas worldwide.
Built utilizing Avondale's modular construction technology, each Sealift ship is made up of more than 430 modules, each ranging in weight from eight tons to more than 200 tons. The first four ships in the program, USNS BOB HOPE (T-AKR 300), USNS FISHER (T-AKR 301), USNS SEAY (T-AKR 302) USNS MENDONCA (T-AKR 303), have been delivered to the Navy and are in service with the Military Sealift Command fleet
, while the fifth ship, USNS PILILAAU (T-AKR 304), will be delivered July 24, 2001. The sixth Sealift ship, BRITTIN (T-AKR 305), is presently scheduled for sea trials later this year and delivery early next year.