The Latest Enterprise of the U.S. Navy: by Maggie Kennon ’17

uss-zumwalt-invitationThe Star Trek fandom has something new to be excited about: Captain James Kirk was in Baltimore on October 15 for the commissioning of the latest United States Ship, the USS Zumwalt. This isn’t science fiction- the commanding officer of the newest Navy destroyer shares the same name as the iconic Star Trek character James Kirk. Although it will not be going into “The final frontier,” it has been called “the largest and most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world” by the US Military:

Crewed by 147 Sailors, the USS Zumwalt is the lead ship of a class of next-generation multi-mission destroyers designed to strengthen naval power. They are capable of performing critical maritime missions and enhance the Navy’s ability to provide deterrence, power projection, and sea control.

uss-zumwalt-friday-tourDavid Sharp, a journalist for the Associated Press writes that:

Despite its size, the warship is 50 times harder to detect than current destroyers thanks to its angular shape and other design features, and its stealth could improve even more once the testing equipment is removed, said Capt. James Downey, program manager. The possibility of a collision is remote. The Zumwalt has sophisticated radar to detect vessels from miles away, allowing plenty of time for evasive action.

I was very excited that my family was invited to be part of the Commissioning weekend in Baltimore. We actually were granted the opportunity to have a private tour of the ship the day before the commissioning. Our tour guides Kate, who shoots the Tomahawks, and Oscar, who is an engineer, are members of the ship’s crew.


We were honored to meet Lt. Col. James Zumwalt, son of Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt Jr. after the tour and were able to share our appreciation for getting to be a part of this weekend during a dinner event held by the Zumwalt family celebrating the commissioning of the USS Zumwalt and honoring Admiral Zumwalt.

The Commissioning Ceremony was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Even waiting in the parking lot for the shuttle that took us to the Pier was spectacular: The Blue Angels and the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron were flying overhead. It was amazing how synchronized they were!

My favorite part of the commissioning ceremony was when the ship’s captain and crew “Brought the ship to life.” They did this through ceremonial decorum such as raising the American flag and “Manning the ship,” when the crew of the USS Zumwalt boarded the ship and saluted. Here is a video of the entire commissioning ceremony, that took place on October 15, 2016: Click Here

Posing with members of the US Navy

Posing with members of the US Navy

Everything I learned during my experience over the weekend was fascinating; I received more information about the US Navy in a couple short days than I had my entire life! I was curious to know still more about the USS Zumwalt, and Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.) graciously responded to my intrigues. He was able to give me a “Behind-the-scenes” look at the USS Zumwalt, her namesake, and the events leading up to her commissioning into the US Navy.
How did the Navy decide that your father, above all others, was the most worthy for this destroyer to be named after him? In other words, what were the criteria used in making the selection?

The process involves names being submitted from within the Navy to the Secretary of the Navy who then makes his recommendation to the Secretary of Defense. While I was not privy to that process, I’ve got to believe because the ship reflected so many of my father’s leadership traits–he was a visionary, innovator and a humanitarian and the ship incorporates all of these traits (the last based on its habitability which gives sailors 4-man state rooms with its own head {bathroom} rather than the 30-40 man living quarters on most ships–that is why he was selected as the ship’s namesake. Ultimately, as the ship class went from 32, to 17, to 12, to 3, to 0, and then back to 3, the ship–like another of my father’s traits–was controversial. President Clinton officially announced the ship would be built with the lead ship named after my father on July 4, 2000, onboard the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. Thus, it was a long 16 years to get to the commissioning.

Do you remember your first reaction when you learned the Navy wanted to honor your father, and his achievements and legacy by naming “the most powerful, technologically-advanced, United States Destroyer in our history,” after him?

It was an emotion of immense pride. But also, knowing of the many sacrifices my father made, I knew it was one he deserved. As one who modernized the Navy and tripled re-enlistment rates as we fought an unpopular war in Vietnam, he was the right man at the right time to get the Navy going in the right direction.

How long did it take from the time you were notified that your father had been chosen until the day of the commissioning?

It took 16 long years. I was at the shipyard (Bath Iron Works) when the first piece of steel was received in 2009 to start the building process. I remember seeing a drawing in 2000 on the office wall of the admiral in charge of the ZUMWALT program. The drawing claimed to depict the first crew of the ship–which showed 1st and 2nd-grade students sitting at their desks!


A photo of Admiral Zumalt who the ship is named after.

What do you think your father would have to say about the USS Zumwalt?

My father would have said “Bravo Zulu.” (This is a term using the letters “B” and “Z,” phonetically spelled out as “Bravo” and “Zulu,” in the Navy meaning “Well Done.” Interestingly, the crew onboard his ship has taken some creative license with one of these letters to communicate the same message–by saying “Bravo Zumwalt.”

How long did it take for the ship to be built?

While pieces of steel were received as early as 2009 at the shipyard, construction did not really begin until 2011. The shipyard had to build some special facilities before beginning construction, including a huge warehouse enclosure.

Are there classified areas within the ship and, if so, what percent of the total space do those areas take up?

There are classified areas of the ship although I don’t know what percentage these incorporate. I think you would be surprised to learn it is a relatively small percentage of the entire ship’s space.

Does any other country have as advanced a ship as the USS Zumwalt?

No other country has a ship like the USS ZUMWALT. Once this ship becomes operational within the fleet, however, other countries will see what it brings to our naval capabilities and, undoubtedly, endeavor to come up with their own versions of the ship.

Does our country have another ship as advanced as the USS Zumwalt or is it unique in our Navy’s fleet?

The USS ZUMWALT is the first ship of the Zumwalt class. There are two other ships in this class under construction–the USS MONSOUR (named after a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor) and the USS JOHNSON (named after President Lyndon Johnson).

Are there any areas in the world that the USS Zumwalt cannot navigate?

Just like all other major ships, there are areas of the world where the USS ZUMWALT cannot go–but, more importantly, there are many more areas of the world where the ZUMWALT can go that other ships cannot.

Do we know where the USS Zumwalt will be first deployed?

She is currently transiting to San Diego–which will be her homeport–and from where she will eventually be deployed to Asia. I imagine she will be making ports of call at places such as Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, and Taiwan, but it is much too early to say.

How many people were involved with building this ship – how many people did it take to build her?

That’s a difficult question to answer as not only was the Bath Iron Works shipyard involved in her construction but also keep in mind so too were over a hundred other contractors. There undoubtedly have been tens of thousands of individual workers who have contributed in one way or another to make this ship a reality–such as ship designers (who started their work in the mid-to-late 1990s), R&D researchers, testers of various technologies and equipment, etc.

The Commissioning week seemed to be so very busy and filled with all sorts of events. Even the coordination of the first “Fleet Week” to be held in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Who are the people responsible for the coordination of all of these events?

You ask an interesting question here. Surprisingly, the Navy is precluded, by law, from paying for ship commissioning. A committee of volunteers–usually retired military–is set up for this purpose to work with the Navy to raise funding and to coordinate commissioning activities. My family worked closely with that committee. Our work continues as we will keep raising funds for the Admiral Zumwalt Legacy and Education Fund which will seek to assist the crew and their families with their education as well as to build enhancements onboard the ship to make life on board more comfortable.

Tell us about when you were on the ship last week and it stopped in front of the Naval Academy.

It was a very emotional moment for our family. The ship was sailing along at a very fast pace when she suddenly slowed. Members of the crew emerged onto the fantail in their dress blue uniform. As the ship came abreast of the U.S. Naval Academy where my parents are buried, she came to a stop; the ship’s whistle was sounded and the crew rendered honors to the ship’s namesake. Upon rendering honors, the ship picked up speed again and the sailors retired.


Some 8000 people attended the dedication of the USS ZUMWALT

The tour of the ship was awesome and our guide Kate seemed so very knowledgeable. She shared with us that she is someone who actually shoots the tomahawks! Our other guide was Oscar, a young Engineer and he seemed thrilled to be part of the crew. I think my favorite part was sitting in the Captain’s chair…Captain Kirk’s chair that is! What parts of the ship are you most excited about?
While the entire ship, as a package, excites me, I also enjoy visiting places onboard her where the crew has placed a personalized tribute to my father. The bust of my father along with some of his quotes and other items placed throughout the ship ensure his legacy will continue along with the legacy of the ship. One member of the crew shared with me how, every time he passes by the bust of my father, he rubs it and says a quick prayer thanking him for what he accomplished.

There were thousands and thousands of folding chairs set up for the Saturday commissioning. How many people do you think attended the event?

Estimates were between 8-10,000.


Did you have a favorite speaker? They all were so good and even though I was a little bit chilled as the sun went down, they kept my attention for the almost two-hour ceremony. I especially liked it when they did the official steps of “manning the ship and bringing her to life,” that was awesome!

I have been to other ship commissioning and, undoubtedly, the command to bring the ship to life is very emotional for all. I enjoyed all the speakers and was very grateful they made sure the audience appreciated what my father had accomplished during his lifetime.


A plane flys above the USS ZUMWALT

Can you share a fun or interesting fact most of us don’t know about the USS Zumwalt?

While I know your mother knows about this since FSM published my article, but in the article you write, you might want to make mention of the strong bond of friendship my father and his Marine Corps aide, Colonel Mike Spiro, had as evidenced by this story . (FYI, Colonel Spiro’s ashes were presented by his son to the ship on Oct 14.)

Update from Lt. Col. Zumwalt: I’m attaching two photos taken by F-35 fighter pilots escorting the USS ZUMWALT back down to Norfolk this week.
Update: Maggie: FYI, here is an article about the ship’s recent departure from Norfolk and two-month transit to its homeport of San Diego. I also just received word from the ship’s captain that they held the commitment to sea ceremony for Colonel Spiro’s ashes while off the coast of NC. Interestingly, and unbeknownst to Capt. Kirk, Col Spiro’s wife’s ashes had been spread at sea off the coast of NC years earlier. Perhaps an invisible hand was involved…Regards, Jim

One other point of interest that Lt. Colonel Zumwalt shared with me is that the top USNA (The United States Naval Academy) and the top NROTC (Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps) graduate both requested and were granted duty onboard USS ZUMWALT.


The USS ZUMWALT on dedication day

I was so grateful to get Colonel Zumwalt’s perspective on this memorable occasion. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to see history in the making. I don’t think there is anyone who could look upon the USS Zumwalt and not be impressed at the display of the strength by our Navy. It will certainly live up to its motto: Pax Propter Vim (Peace through Power). If you would like to learn more about the USS Zumwalt here is a link: http://usszumwalt.org/