USNS Navajo Brings Employment, Hope to Houma

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Gulf Island Fabrication’s shipyard subsidiary, Houma’s Gulf Island Shipyard, is tasked with the design and construction of the USNS Navajo (T-ATS 6), the future Naval ship named in honor of the Navajo Nation, after it was awarded a $63.5 million contract for the vessel in March 2018.

The USNS Navajo will be the lead ship in the Navy’s new class of towing, salvage and rescue vessels. The three T-ATF 166 and two T-ARS 50 class ships, which are expected to reach the end of their service lives in 2020, will be replaced by the new Navajo-class ships.

“When she joins the fleet, T-ATS 6 and her sister ships will play an absolutely critical role in our national defense strategy,” Navy Program Manager for the Support Ships, Boats and Craft Program Office Michael Kosar said during the keel laying ceremony for the USNS Navajo. “Unmatched versatility and flexibility, these ships will replace two existing classes of support and significantly enhance…the support we provide for our fleet sailors and Marines.”

In addition to how vital the USNS Navajo and the Navajo-class ships will be to the U.S. Navy, the construction of the ship will help the economy here in the Bayou Region. Many locals have been contracted to work on the ship, which will be constructed in the shipyard in Houma.

It is scheduled to be completed in March 2021.

In April of this year, Gulf Island was awarded a contract modification for the construction of two additional vessels: the future USNS Cherokee Nation (T-ATS 7) and USNS Saginaw Ojibwe Anishinabek (T-ATS 8), which will be constructed in Houma as well.

The original contract in 2018 includes options for seven additional vessels, which have the potential to bring the value of the contract to $522.7 million.

“We are extremely excited that the Navy has exercised these options for two additional vessels, which once again exemplifies the confidence and trust our customers have in Gulf Island and our ability to deliver a quality product.  We look forward to working with the Navy on these very important projects and in the future on the remaining optionable T-ATS vessels if exercised,”Gulf Island President and CEO Kirk Meche said. “These projects support our efforts to diversify our backlog beyond offshore oil and gas and will contribute significantly to the utilization of our shipyard facilities.”

USNS Keel Laying Ceremony

Gulf Island held a keel laying ceremony on Oct. 30 at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center for the USNS Navajo.

The ceremony opened with a presentation of colors by the Vandebilt Catholic High School Color Guard and playing of the national anthem by the school’s band.

Attendees heard remarks by Gulf Island Shipyard Chairman Jack Laborde, Kosar, Navajo Nation President Jonathon Nez, Speaker of the 24th Navajo Nation Council Seth Damon and Miss Navajo Nation 2006-2007 and USNS Navajo Sponsor Jocelyn Billy, among other guest speakers.

Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove, representatives from the office of U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, U.S. military representatives and other Navajo government officials were among the audience.

Peter MacDonald, Navajo leader and code talker during World War II–who was also in attendance–was acknowledged with a standing ovation.

“During World War II, the Navajo Code Talkers, Marines Corps service members under the Department of the Navy, fought in the Pacific Theater, transmitting top-secret messages. By the end of the war, over 400 Code Talkers were trained for this unique service,” reads a press release by the Navajo Nation. “Today, the Navajo people continue to serve in Armed Forces at a higher rate than the national participation rate.”

Navajo Nation Spiritual Leaders Leroy Thinn, Kenneth Begishe and Thompson Billy conducted prayer dedications of the USNS Navajo.

The keel was authenticated by Nez, Damon and Billy, who signed their initials that were then engraved into the keel plate – which is the symbolic backbone of the ship.

The naming of the USNS Navajo is greatly contributed to late U.S. Sen. John McCain, after he advocated for and supported the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, which supported naming the new class of ships after the Navajo Nation.

“As the First Americans of this country, we are honored to celebrate this major milestone in our history. The milestone we celebrate today is the first of its kind for the Navajo Nation,” reads a statement by Nez. “Throughout our history, the Diné people have always been the caretakers and protectors of our sacred land in every branch of the Armed Forces, so we are very grateful that our selfless and brave Diné warriors are being recognized and honored through this historic ceremony.”