Guest opinion: USS Billings crew gets great welcome

by Billings Gazette, Sharla Tester

As the sponsor of the USS Billings, one of the U.S. Navy’s newest warships, I thank Mayor Tom Hanel, Councilman Ryan Sullivan, and all the wonderful residents of Billings for extending such kind hospitality to the crew and me as we recently visited the Magic City.

For a week, I had the honor of traveling around Billings with Commander Nathan Rowan, Master Chief Jose Ramiro and six other members of the 50-sailor team who will be manning the Littoral Combat Ship and keeping our nation safe. For all eight crew members, this was their first trip to Montana.

As we met with the City Council, County Commission, students, business leaders, organizations and veterans, everyone extended a warm welcome and showed the crew how generous their namesake city is. I was truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that the crew received. They were shown just how magical Billings really is.

When Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus asked me to sponsor the USS Billings, I never imagined how wonderfully humbling this journey would be. From the welding of my initials into the keel of the ship, to christening it with a customary bottle of champagne, I am honored to mother the ship and care for its brave crew. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously and with great pride.

As the shipbuilders finish construction and start sea trials, let’s not forget the American ingenuity that helped craft this modern vessel that will protect our shores.

As the Navy plans for the commissioning, let’s continue work together to instill the spirit and history of Billings on the ship. Commander Rowan and his crew will bring a piece of Billings with them everywhere they go as they defend our freedom.

As the sailors prepare for their mission, let’s keep them in our prayers every day.

Sharla D. Tester is a farmer from Big Sandy, the sponsor of the USS Billings, and the wife of U.S. Senator Jon Tester.