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story.lead_photo.caption The USS Little Rock splashes into the Menominee River in Marinette, Wis., after its christening on July 18, 2015. The speedy vessel will be commissioned Dec. 16 in a ceremony in Buffalo, N.Y.

The commissioning of the USS Little Rock (LCS 9) in Buffalo, N.Y., next month will be a 10-day-long celebration, as New York's second-largest city fetes the nation's newest warship.

Organizers say roughly 9,000 tickets have been reserved for the Dec. 16 commissioning ceremony, which takes place adjacent to the Buffalo and Erie County Navy and Military Park on the city's waterfront.

Officials announced this week that "due to overwhelming demand," no more tickets are left.

"There has been a tremendous amount of public interest here," said Daniel Mecca of Buffalo, a member of the commissioning committee. "It's a big event for Buffalo, for the crew and everybody involved."

A delegation of roughly 30 Arkansans, including Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith, will attend, organizers say.

The ship and its crew are to arrive there Dec. 8. Crew members will have a packed agenda once they get there.

The list of activities includes a visit to nearby Veterans Affairs medical centers, two church services, a Buffalo Bills football game, a Buffalo Sabres hockey contest, an enlistment ceremony and an assortment of news conferences, parties and receptions.

There'll also be a City of Little Rock Reception at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo on Dec. 15.

A painting of the Little Rock skyline, to be hung on board the vessel, has been commissioned.

The crew members aren't strangers to the Natural State. Many of them visited in June, stopping at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, the USS Razorback submarine and elsewhere.

The setting for the Dec. 16 commissioning ceremony is unprecedented, according to Maurice Naylon of Buffalo, the commissioning committee chairman.

The ceremony will take place beside the older USS Little Rock, which served as a light cruiser and then a guided missile cruiser. It is now a 610-foot-long floating museum that draws roughly 70,000 visitors per year.

"It's the first time in the 242-year history of the Navy that a ship will be commissioned right beside its namesake," he said. U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., will speak at the ceremony. Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who served on the original USS Little Rock, also will attend.

The new vessel is a littoral combat ship (abbreviated as LCS) -- smaller, swifter and capable of operating in shallower waters.

Capable of reaching speeds of 45 knots -- more than 50 mph -- it will be one of the Navy's fastest ships.

Lockheed Martin, the defense firm, led the construction team. The contract to build up to 10 ships, announced in December 2010, was valued at up to $3.6 billion.

The new USS Little Rock contains 1,000 tons of aluminum, 2,000 tons of steel and more than 100 miles of cable, both electric and fiber optic.

At top speeds, the new ship "rides above the waves like a speedboat" and leaves in its wake a wall of water nearly 30 feet high, according to a Lockheed Martin promotional video.

It has anti-mine, anti-submarine and anti-surface capabilities and a pad where helicopters can land.

The ship, roughly 390 feet long and 57 feet wide, was constructed in Marinette, Wis.

Its keel-laying ceremony, which marked the start of construction, took place on June 27, 2013; its christening -- complete with speeches and a smashed champagne bottle -- was on July 18, 2015.

The ship completed a series of trials in August, satisfying the Navy Board of Inspection and Survey, and clearing the last major hurdle in its path.

Dec. 16 will be the day "when the ship gets brought into the U.S. naval fleet," Naylon said. "It's just a piece of metal owned by Lockheed Martin until [that] moment."

Naval officials selected Janee Bonner, the wife of former U.S. Rep. Josiah R. "Jo" Bonner, R-Ala., to be the ship's sponsor.

Janee Bonner wielded the champagne bottle at the christening, and she'll utter the traditional words that accompany naval commissioning ceremonies: "Man the ship and bring her to life."

"I'm sorry that she's not from Arkansas, but she's a lovely lady," Naylon said. "I think she'll discharge her duties in great fashion."

In his speech at the 2015 christening, Mabus said Janee Bonner was a native of Mobile, Ala., which, like Marinette, has a shipyard for building littoral combat ships.

"Janee Bonner ties those two great communities, two great shipbuilders together," Mabus said at the 2015 ceremony.

Arkansans who are headed for Buffalo should take along heavy coats -- just in case.

"It could be 30 degrees and snowy. It could be 60 degrees and sunny. We've had both. Chances are it's going to be in the 40s," Mecca said.

"It'll be cool, but it won't be our February weather, which gets kind of bad. We're certainly hoping for the best," he added.

The Arkansas contingent looks forward to witnessing the commissioning, said Ron Maxwell, coordinator for the USS Little Rock Namesake Committee.

"It is a very big deal, and there's a lot of protocol and pomp and pageantry," he said.

Those without tickets to the Buffalo event can watch it electronically. The Navy will livestream the event.

There'll also be a "big watch party" at the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock, Maxwell said. Doors will open at 9 a.m., and the ceremony will begin at 10 a.m.

"It'll be an opportunity for local folks to celebrate this great occasion together," he added.

A Section on 11/22/2017

Print Headline: USS Little Rock's N.Y. rite sold out; Commissioning Dec. 16 for warship

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