PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - First Lady Michelle Obama will soon have a permanent link to South Mississippi. She's agreed to sponsor the future Coast Guard cutter Stratton, which is under construction at Northrop Grumman's Pascagoula facility. Michelle Obama will come to Pascagoula next summer to christen the vessel.
Coast Guard Rear Admiral Ronald Rabago made the announcement Monday at the future ship's "keel laying" ceremony. The laying of the keel is traditionally the beginning of the ship's construction, although in the modern day, it's mostly ceremonial. The ship is 20 percent complete.
"This will also be the first time in the history of the Coast Guard that a First Lady has been distinguished in this role," Rabago said to the crowd of shipbuilders, executives and other officials.
The ship's namesake, Dorothy Stratton, founded the Coast Guard Women's Reserve, and was the first woman to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. She died in 2006 at the age of 107.
In a letter accepting the offer to sponsor the Stratton, Mrs. Obama said, "All in all, more than 10,000 women looked to Captain Stratton for leadership and guidance. She is a source of inspiration for countless women in uniform and for young women and girls who may one day serve in our Nation's Armed Forces because of her example. Now, all Americans can look to the cutter named in her honor as a living embodiment of her service and strength."
Rabago said the Coast Guard is thrilled one influential woman will have a hand in honoring the legacy of another.
"With the legend like Dorothy Stratton as a namesake, our First Lady Michelle Obama as a sponsor, and a dedicated and courageous crew of Coast Guard men and women, this ship is destined to do great things," Rabago told the crowd. "I can't wait until she joins the fleet."
Northrop Grumman officials are happy to work on the ship. The Stratton will be the third and most technologically advanced of the National Security Cutters. That series of ships will replace some outdated Coast Guard vessels, which were built more than 40 years ago.
"It's fast, it's got a lot of fire power," said Irwin Edenzon, Vice President and General Manager of Northrop Grumman Gulf Coast. "It can launch a pursuit boat off the stern which allows them to interdict drug runners, combat piracy, do a lot of missions now that they've been struggling to do with some pretty old ships."
He said he's glad the First Lady will come to the Pascagoula shipyard to sponsor the Stratton.
"We're excited for the shipbuilders," Edenzon said. "It's a great day for them to have a chance to show off for the nation."
To read Mrs. Obama's letter agreeing to sponsor the ship, click here.