Looking up at the grey warship docked in Charleston Harbor on Saturday, Harvey Connelly beamed with pride.
The Oklahoman was in the Holy City to mark the commissioning of the newest ship in the U.S. naval arsenal — the USS Charleston. Three decades ago, Connelly served aboard the last ship to bear Charleston's name. He marveled at how much ships have changed since his time at sea.
"I'm impressed with the advances in technology," he said.
The vessel Connelly served on from 1986 to 1990 was an amphibious cargo ship. The newly-commissioned Charleston is a state-of-the-art, $440 million littoral combat ship that is part of a new wave of Navy technology that officials said will form an essential part of the vanguard in a reinvigorated fleet.
Cmdr. Christopher Brusca, the ship's commanding officer, highlighted his diverse crew who hail from around the world and hold advanced degrees.
"I point out all this diversity to you because it's what makes us special," Brusca said. "Diversity does make us special but our solidarity under this (American) flag ... that's what makes us powerful."
Breaking from protocol, the commander took an opportunity during the ceremony to promote one of his crew to the rank of petty officer first class.
For Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, the cooperation between the Navy, Congress, ship manufacturer Austal and others in the construction of ships like the Charleston represent the best of what America is capable of.
"Eighteen months ago, you had a different Navy; we had some troubles in the Pacific as you are all aware," he said, referencing a series of accidents that left sailors dead and exposed systemic problems within an overly-taxed naval force.
The Navy has come a long way since 2017 and now has the funding needed to restore its readiness, Spencer said.
"We are now facing a different era of great competition," he said. "It is this era that we face now that we must be ready. The competition is full on."
Several thousand people attended the ceremony. After leaving South Carolina, the Charleston will stop in Jamaica before traversing the Panama Canal and making its way back to its home port in San Diego.
As a littoral combat ship, the Charleston was made to be fast, maneuverable and able to operate close to shore in ways that larger ships cannot, officials stated. Unlike older ships, she uses a trimaran, or double outrigger, design and propels itself using intake and water jets.
The Charleston’s mission will be part of the 7th Fleet, giving her patrolling duty off South America, into the Pacific and Asia, including the South China Sea where China is looking to expand its reach by building a string of man-made islands it claims as sovereign territory.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said the Charleston is the latest of more than 40 ships that have been named after people or places in South Carolina.
"So many South Carolinians have been dedicated to making sure that America remains the safest nation on earth," Scott said.