Seaman Apprentice Abigail Leopold, of Elsah, and the rest of the 1,000-person crew are slowly bringing the amphibious assault ship America to life, overseeing construction, testing new equipment, training on new systems and testing the ship at sea. The crew eventually will grow to more than 1,100 sailors and nearly 1,900 embarked Marines when the ship is at sea.
PASCAGOULA, Miss. — A graduate of Gulf Coast High School is serving in the U.S. Navy as part of a hand-selected crew charged with bringing the Navy’s newest and most advanced amphibious assault ship into service.
Seaman Apprentice Abigail Leopold, of Elsah, is serving aboard the amphibious assault ship America in Pascagoula, Miss. America is the first ship of its class and was turned over to the Navy April 10 during a custody transfer ceremony. After the ship is certified and sea trials are complete, the ship will be placed into commission as USS America and will be homeported in San Diego.
Leopold and the rest of the 1,000-person crew are slowly bringing the ship to life, overseeing construction, testing new equipment, training on new systems and testing the ship at sea. The crew eventually will grow to more than 1,100 sailors and nearly 1,900 embarked Marines when the ship is at sea. America is 844 feet long, 106 feet wide and weighs nearly 45,000 tons. The ship has twin gas-turbine engines that push the vessel through the water at more than 22 knots.
As one of the sailors who will commission the ship, Leopold is getting a firsthand look at the improvements the Navy has incorporated into the design of the ship: a more fuel-efficient gas turbine propulsion plant, increased capacity for aviation operations, advanced weapons systems, and sophisticated electronics and communications suites.
America sailors know they are building a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes. Leopold said it is an exciting time to be in the Navy and helping to build a crew and a ship from scratch is something she never expected to be doing just a couple years ago.
The 19-year-old sailor realizes the historical value of what it means to not only be selected to be part of a commissioning crew but to help commission a ship named after her country.
“I feel really proud to be part of this crew,” Leopold said. “I’ve gone under way with several other ships, and I really feel that our crew has an unparalleled amount of pride and commitment, not only to the mission, but to each other. I’m really fortunate that I was selected for these orders.”
Leopold said she is honored to be a part of the America commissioning crew and thankful for the chance to do something she loves.
“One thing that I really love about my job working as a boatswain’s mate is how diverse the job is,” Leopold said. “I really like the challenge of learning all of the different tech manuals we have. So many parts of this job are things that I never thought I would learn about prior to joining the Navy.”
In addition to being a plankowner, Leopold was recently selected as “Blue Jacket of the Quarter.” This program recognizes the outstanding performance of an E-1 to E-3 Sailor each quarter.
“Being selected as Blue Jacket of the Quarter is a great honor, because there are so many other deserving candidates here,” she said. “I was really nervous during the board, and after I was finished I felt really relieved because I felt like I did pretty well. I’ve worked really hard over the past year, and it’s really gratifying and humbling to be recognized at this level.”
Chief Boatswain’s Mate Phuc Bui, Deck Department 2nd Division leading chief petty officer and Leopold’s supervisor, explained that being selected as the Bluejacket of the Quarter is no easy task.
There is a lot of competition for Blue Jacket of the Quarter,” Bui said. “The competition is fierce navywide, but when you take in account that being assigned to a (ship under construction) is considered a special duty, it ups the ante quite a bit.”
Bui said he believes Leopold is a special sailor who will do many great things in the future.
“Seaman Apprentice Leopold is a role model sailor that only happens once a decade,” he said. “She’s the type of sailor others will emulate and tell stories of to motivate others. She is a direct and accurate representation of what America sailors should strive to be like.”
As the commanding officer of future USS America, Capt. Robert A. Hall, Jr., wants to recognize sailors who are setting the resilient foundation for the nation’s newest amphibious warship.
“As the fourth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name ‘America,’ we have the opportunity to build this command with the ideals of our namesake,” Hall said. “America’s sailors and Marines demonstrate the Navy’s core values every day through their training and initiative, and I am proud to have a crew of this caliber.”
The America class of amphibious assault ships replaces the aging Tarawa class. Its design enables it to carry a larger and more diverse complement of aircraft, including the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey, the new Joint Strike Fighter, and a mix of cargo and assault helicopters. America will be able to support a wide spectrum of military operations and missions, including putting Marines ashore for combat operations, launching air strikes, keeping sea lanes free and open for the movement of global commerce, and delivering humanitarian aid following a disaster like the typhoon that devastated the Philippines in 2013.