Navy’s next amphibious ship named for Marines’ Helmand province fight

Navy’s next amphibious ship named for Marines’ Helmand province fight

The Navy will name its next amphibious assault ship in honor of the Marines, Navy corpsmen, allies and partners who served and died in Helmand province, Afghanistan, the Navy secretary announced Thursday.

In unveiling the name, Carlos Del Toro called back to his late 2022 announcement that the America-class amphibious assault ship LHA-9 would be named the USS Fallujah, after the Marines who fought in the first and second battles of Fallujah and more broadly who served in Iraq.

Naming a ship for Helmand province will recognize “the bravery and sacrifice of our Marines and our sailors who fought for almost 20 years in the mountains of Afghanistan,” Del Toro said in his remarks at the Modern Day Marine conference in Washington.

Trish Smith, the wife of Marine Commandant Gen. Eric Smith, will serve as the ship’s sponsor. She will see the ship through all its construction-related milestones and support the ship and its crew once it joins the fleet and begins operating around the world.

The Navy awarded HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding a $130 million contract in November 2023 to begin buying long-lead materials for the ship.

Smith gave an emotional accounting of the meaning of the ship’s name on Thursday, following the secretary’s announcement.

He called the region — which was the focus of Marines’ operations that at its height involved a full Marine expeditionary force forward, and more than 19,000 Marines and sailors — “the heart of the opium trade, a Taliban stronghold, and a terrain as rugged and formidable as any on earth.”

“And yet, it was there that our Marines and sailors and allies and partners showed what it means to be at the tip of the spear,” Smith said. “It was there that another generation of warriors added to the storied history of our Marine Corps.”

Smith spoke of Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, who used his body to shield others from a grenade explosion in Marjah, Afghanistan, on Nov. 21, 2010.

He spoke of Sgt. Christopher Farias, who refused treatment for his wounds when his patrol base was ambushed in 2010 in Kajaki, Afghanistan. With fragmentation from a 73 mm recoilless rifle in his neck and shoulder, Farias climbed to a rooftop to coordinate his Marines’ fire and maneuver to repel the assault, in “true Marine fashion,” Smith said.

And the commandant spoke of Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan, who was patrolling a road on Aug. 26, 2009, when he spotted an insurgent preparing to detonate a roadside bomb. He protected a nearby Marine from the blast and remained in the blast zone to warn fellow Marines. Hogan died in the explosion, but he saved the rest of his squad.

“Three hundred and sixty-six Marines would lose their lives to hostile action in Afghanistan during the years of the Helmand campaign, and almost 5,000 more were wounded,” Smith said.

But beyond fights on the battlefield, the commandant said they trained Afghan counterparts, supported local governance and helped develop infrastructure.

“As we reflect on these years of hard-fought victories and painful losses, it is crucial to remember why we fought,” Smith said. “Our mission was to deny a safe haven to terrorists who would harm the United States, and support the Afghan people in their quest for peace and stability. It was about what they might one day become.”

Smith did not directly address the fall of Kabul in 2021 or the emotional reaction by many Marines who had served there and families of those who died there.

But the commandant told the audience, “The legacy of our Marines in Helmand is not defined merely by the ground that was gained or lost, but by the spirit they embodied and the lives they touched. They fought with honor, they served with compassion, they led by example, and they made a difference in this world.”

To the families of the fallen, Smith said, “Through the naming of LHA-10 as the USS Helmand Province, your sacrifices will never be forgotten and their legacy will endure through the generation of Marines that follow.”

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlos Ruiz said in a video posted to Instagram on Thursday, “This name not only honors the battles won and the successes of our units in the Helmand province, but it also honors the names of those who left blood, sweat, tears and even their lives on the battlefield. The stories of what Marines did in combat are epic and more often today are not shared enough.”

The legacy of the fighting in Helmand, Afghanistan, is personal for Ruiz, the senior enlisted Marine.

On Oct. 28, 2009, he was the first sergeant for Lima Company within 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, in the province, he said in the video.

That day, he was the vehicle commander of a shock trauma platoon. While he was on his way to recover Marines who had been wounded by improvised explosive device attacks, the vehicle that was supposed to clear his way to the landing zone also was hit.

A Marine kicked open the hatch of the vehicle and pointed at Ruiz with his minesweeper. Undaunted by whatever injuries he may have sustained in the recent blast, the Marine told Ruiz to follow him to the landing zone, and he cleared the way.

There were 11 casualties from the explosions that day, ranging from routine injuries to deaths, the sergeant major said.

“It’s a story for me that I’ll never forget,” Ruiz said, adding, “Thousands of you have your own stories to tell.”

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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