The U.S. Navy’s newest expeditionary sea base (ESB), USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams (T-ESB 4), arrived at Naval Station Norfolk, July 5, after completing its 15,000 nautical mile maiden voyage from San Diego, California.
USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams was delivered to the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command in February 2018 and is the Navy’s second, purpose-built ESB. The first ESB is USS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) which is currently operating in the Middle East.
“Our voyage from California to Virginia was very unusual because most modern ships use the Panama Canal to travel from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. Because of our ship’s size, we were too large for the canal so we went around the southern tip of South America through the Straits of Magellan,” said Capt. George McCarthy USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams’ master. “Also, we transited this region during the arduous South American winter, so this was a journey which deserves respect.”
The Straits of Magellan are considered to be difficult to navigate due to the constriction of its sea-lanes and volatile weather and strong sea-currents.
“Pulling into Norfolk signifies the completion of the ship’s two-month, 15,000 nautical mile maiden voyage,” said Lt. Cmdr. Courtney ‘Cory’ Rank, USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams’ military detachment officer in charge. “The time on this voyage gave the Sailors time to gel as a team with the civil service mariners. Being able to build comradery as a crew during this journey is of vital importance to its future as a team.”
The 784ft.-long vessel features a 52,000 square-foot flight deck, fuel and equipment storage, repair spaces, magazines, and mission-planning spaces. Able to accommodate up to 250 personnel, USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams will support multiple missions, such as air mine counter measures, counter-piracy operations, maritime security operations, humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions and crisis response operations. The ship has hybrid-manned crew with a combination of military personnel and civilian mariners.
“Military Sealift Command has lots of experience sailing ships with hybrid crews,” said Capt. George McCarthy, USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams’ master. “I believe the hybrid crews are very effective and we will see more of our future ships operated under this concept.”
USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams is named after the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima. Hershel “Woody” Williams joined the Marine Corps following the attack on Pearl Harbor and, after serving in Guadalcanal and Guam, he joined the campaign in Iwo Jima. Two days after arriving on the island, Williams picked up a 70-pound flamethrower and walked ahead of his infantry’s tanks for four hours clearing their path of enemy machine gun fire. His actions resulted in President Harry S. Truman awarding him the Medal of Honor two years later.
USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams is the expeditionary sea base-variant of the expeditionary transfer dock (ESD) which includes USNS Montford Point (T-ESD 1), USNS John Glenn (T-ESD 2) and USS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3). USS Lewis B. Puller was later commissioned as a warship and currently carries the “USS” designation. The third expeditionary sea base, USNS Miguel Keith (T-ESB 5), is currently under construction by General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) in San Diego, California.