The progressive modernization and recapitalization of the Coast Guard’s aging legacy fleet marked a significant milestone on Veterans Day when the first of eight national security cutters being built under the service’s Deepwater Program was christened Bertholf (WMSL 750) at the Northrop Grumman Ship Systems shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.

“In the name of the United States of America, may God bless this ship and all who sail in her,” said Mrs. Meryl Chertoff, the Bertholf’s sponsor – and wife of Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff – as she smashed a bottle of champagne across a strike plate mounted to the cutter’s bow. The audience of more than 1,000 guests erupted in applause, accompanied by the Coast Guard Band’s spirited rendition of Semper Paratus, the Coast Guard’s service song. The Bertholf is the first major cutter to be christened for Coast Guard service since the 378-foot high-endurance cutter USCGC Midgett was launched 35 years ago. 

Although built primarily for deepwater missions for maritime patrol and interdiction, as their name implies, the Bertholf and her sister ships also will strengthen the Coast Guard’s homeland security and defense capabilities as well, not only along the U.S. East, West, and Gulf Coasts, and inland waterways, but also throughout the entire maritime domain. During the nearly two-hour ceremony in Pascagoula, speakers recognized Coast Guard veterans dating back to World War II who were in attendance, praised the shipyard workers who overcame the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to resume work on the cutter with minimal delay, and saluted the men and women throughout the Coast Guard for their continued vigilance and service to the nation in all of their maritime missions. “Our people cannot be effective without the proper tools,” said Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard. “Bertholf and her successors will be the most capable and interoperable cutters the service has ever had.” Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), a Coast Guard veteran, noted that the time will come, perhaps sooner than anyone expects, when the Coast Guard will again be called to respond to a major attack on the U.S. homeland. “So it is fitting that our nation is providing you with a great ship and great training, but at the end of the day it’s going to take the great people that you are to make those things work,” he said. Flagship of the Fleet At 418 feet, the lead ship in the new Legend- of national-security cutters (NSCs) is designed to be the flagship of the U.S. Coast Guard’s fleet, capable of executing the most challenging maritime-security missions and being supportive of a shared Coast Guard-Navy commitment to the mission requirements of the joint U.S. combatant commanders.

The NSC is the largest and most technologically advanced of the Integrated Deepwater System (IDS) program’s three major es of cutters. Bertholf is named in honor of Commodore Ellsworth P. Bertholf, the Coast Guard’s first commandant. Appointed to lead the Revenue Cutter Service in 1911, he was re-appointed to the same office in 1915 when President Woodrow Wilson created the U.S. Coast Guard by merging the Revenue Cutter Service with the Life-Saving Service.  Honored in his day for the heroic rescue of more than 200 whalers stranded in the Arctic in 1897, Bertholf also led the Coast Guard with distinction during World War I. Rear Adm. Gary T. Blore, program executive officer of the Integrated Deepwater System, noted several parallels between the Coast Guard of nearly 100 years ago with today’s Coast Guard and the Deepwater program. “Beyond matters of personnel, administration, and training,” he said, “Commodore Bertholf guided the transition of the Coast Guard’s inventory of cutters and boats to a wartime footing,” Blore said. He noted that Bertholf advocated closer cooperation between the Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy – presaging today’s National Fleet Policy – and later paved the way for the creation of Coast Guard aviation. “I am confident that our mission and vision for the Deepwater Program would resonate strongly with Commodore Bertholf were he with us here today,” Blore said. “We again face a time of great danger to our nation’s security; we again are acquiring and delivering more capable and interoperable cutters, aircraft, and systems; we again are called upon to assist Coast Guard operational forces in executing their challenging missions.” 

Shipyard Workers Praised 

Blore also recognized the important roles played by Congress and the Department of Homeland Security in translating the Deepwater Program from vision to reality. “Even the best-laid plans to rebuild the Coast Guard would come to naught without the tremendous support we have received both from our Service secretary and from our elected representatives,” he said. “Speaking for the men and women of our Service who are on patrol today – and those who will follow during the years ahead – I express our deep appreciation to our Department and our Congress for providing the critical funding necessary to sustain the Deepwater Program in the face of many competing priorities.” 

Taylor, Chertoff, and other speakers singled out Northrop Grumman’s shipyard workers for their resilience and commitment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina last year. “When these shipbuilders leave every day,” said Taylor, “they are tired and dirty and, I can assure you, they have given the citizens of this nation and Northrop Grumman a full day’s work for what they got paid that day.” “I want to thank everyone at our shipyard and most particularly the fitters and welders and the fine job that they’ve done leading up to the christening of this vessel,” Chertoff said. “It is often said that everybody is able to accomplish what they do only because we stand on the shoulders of giants. That is of course very true with respect to the accomplishment of building and christening this cutter.” 

Chertoff also emphasized the important role the Bertholf and other future national security cutters will play in the Coast Guard’s multiple maritime missions. “This ship is very much a tangible symbol of our unwavering commitment as a Department to make the necessary investments in the Coast Guard and our other border forces to make sure that we can continue to keep this country strong.” “I can’t predict what the next attack will be, and I cannot predict when the next hurricane will come, but I will tell you that, whenever a natural disaster or act of terror approaches, this ship and its crew – and the entire Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security – will be there at the ready, at the ramparts to defend and protect the citizens of this region and this country,” said Chertoff. 

More than 70 crewmembers have reported to the Bertholf to date, with the balance of the crew scheduled to arrive next spring.  All are now undergoing extensive training at various locations. Late next spring, Bertholf’s crew will move to Pascagoula for additional shore training at Northrop Grumman’s facilities and aboard the ship. This will lead to builders and acceptance trials and, finally, formal delivery of Bertholf to the Coast Guard. “It’s a great honor to be in command of the crew that will bring this ship to life and into commission,” Capt. Patrick Stadt, the cutter’s prospective commanding officer, said.  “The crew is extremely excited about taking delivery next year, and they are fully entrenched in training for the new systems and operation of Bertholf.  In less than a year from now, we will have the most capable Deepwater asset ever built added to our inventory and ready to answer all bells.”

Gordon I. Peterson

Capt. Gordon I. Peterson, USN (Ret.), a senior technical director with General Dynamics Information Technology, supports the Integrated Deepwater System’s program office at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. During his 30 years of active duty, Peterson served in numerous senior-level public affairs assignments, including duty as special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he served in Vietnam as a Navy helicopter gunship pilot. Following retirement from the Navy he was senior editor of the Navy League’s Sea Power magazine and its annual Almanac of Seapower.

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