The expeditionary sea base USS Miguel Keith (ESB-5) joined the fleet in a ceremony at Naval Air Station North Island, California, on 8 May.
The Miguel Keith is the third ship in the Lewis B. Puller class and the third to be commissioned as a warship. (The second, the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams [ESB-4], was commissioned last year and is now stationed in Souda Bay, Greece.) When they were designed, the ESBs were planned to be operated as United States Naval Ships—USNS—but the Navy later revised that plan, electing instead to give them Unites States Ship commissions to allow them to perform a wider range of naval operations. USNS vessels are allowed to carry armaments for self-defense only and cannot launch offensive operations, while USS warships can perform any operation legal under the laws of armed conflict, including mine countermeasures and staging of special operations forces. The ships have been qualified to operate a variety of aircraft, including MH-53 helicopters and U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
Despite the USS designation, the ESB ships are operated by mixed Navy and civilian mariner crews. Based on the expeditionary transfer dock ship design (which is derived from the commercial Alaska-class oil tanker), the new ship is 785 feet long, with a beam of 164 feet and a draft of 39 feet fully loaded, the Navy reports. She has four spots on her flight deck and can accommodate a variety of small surface craft. Her commanding officer is Captain Troy A. Frederick, U.S. Navy.
The ship is named for Medal of Honor recipient Marine Corps Lance Corporal Miguel Keith. Keith was mortally wounded in a May 1970 battle in Vietnam. His Medal of Honor citation notes that, “despite his painful wounds, he ran across the fire-swept terrain to check the security of vital defensive positions, and then, while completely exposed to view, proceeded to deliver a hail of devastating machine gun fire against the enemy,” before advancing on approaching attackers and forcing them to retreat.
In April, the Navy also commissioned its newest Independence-variant littoral combat ship, the USS Oakland (LCS-24), in her namesake city. Unlike most commissionings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oakland was not commissioned administratively, but instead had a small public—if socially distanced—ceremony that included city officials and speakers. U.S. Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Sean Buck, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and commanding officer Commander Francisco X. Garza were among the speakers.