WASHINGTON — From al-Qaida terrorists to Somali pirates, America's enemies may come to tremble with fear at the mere mention of Omaha and Sioux City.
The two Midwestern cities, situated far from the ocean tides, will see their names adorn two of the U.S. Navy's newest, fastest warships — vessels designed to be particularly agile and deadly in a new era of asymmetrical combat.
U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the names Wednesday for the littoral combat ships: the USS Omaha and the USS Sioux City. Construction will begin next year, with the ships scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in 2016.
Mabus told The World-Herald that he chose the two cities in order to honor their past and ongoing support of the military.
“The values that they bring, the patriotism that they have shown, is really special,” he said in an interview.
The new littoral combat ships reflect a new strategy for the nation's military that is focused on a force with a smaller footprint, but one that can respond with lethal speed to a wide range of threats.
Mabus said the ships will be in the fleet for the next 30 to 40 years. They are designed so different weapons and equipment packages can be subbed in and out, allowing the ships to be quickly switched from one mission to another.
They are capable of crossing oceans but also can approach much closer to shore than the traditional ships they replace.
Over the decades, ships with Iowa and Nebraska names have enjoyed strong community support and forged close ties with the people in those states, he said. Examples include the USS Iowa battleship and the USS Nebraska submarine.
This will be the fourth ship named after Omaha.
“It's a really good history,” Mabus said.
For sailors serving thousands of miles from home, letters and care packages from their ships' namesake communities mean the world, Mabus said. Sailors wear the name of the ship on their uniform and come to identify with those areas.
Members of the Nebraska and Iowa congressional delegations welcomed the news as a tribute to their communities.
“What a great testament to the community of Omaha and the character of its people,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.
“This is an honor for Iowa and for the hardworking men and women of Sioux City,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., welcomed the news: “Naming the ship for our largest city recognizes the commitment Nebraskans have to our men and women in uniform serving around the world and on the seas."
Rep. Lee Terry, R,-Neb., said “Omahans take the Nebraska motto of 'The Good Life' seriously, and this has carried over into Omaha's low unemployment, clean streets, beautiful parks, and healthy economy. It is appropriate that Omaha – a city strongly embodying American ideals - has a ship defending those ideals bearing its name."
Mabus noted that Navy ships and their crews are often the only exposure that those in far-flung corners of the world ever have to America and its people.
He also noted that people living overseas often have heard of only a couple of the largest cities in America.
“I do think it's important, as somebody who grew up in a little town in Mississippi, to get the story of different parts of America and different traditions of America and how important it is to the tapestry of this country that we have cities like Omaha and Sioux City,” Mabus said. Contact the writer: 202-630-4823, firstname.lastname@example.org
Video of the Independence Littoral Combat Ship 2: