The USS Augusta will be commissioned in Eastport on Sept. 30. The Independence-variant littoral combat ship is designed to strike fast and has a shallow draft that allows it to provide defenses along the shoreline. It is the second U.S. Navy warship to be named for Maine’s capital city. Photo courtesy of Austal USA

AUGUSTA — The new USS Augusta will join the Navy fleet Sept. 30 when it is commissioned in Eastport, a Down East deep water port city known for its frequent hosting of Navy warships.

Augusta officials involved in planning, hosting and fundraising for four events that are part of the commissioning ceremonies say it is an honor to have the 419-foot-long, 104-foot-wide Independence-variant littoral combat ship named after Augusta. And they hope residents will make it to Eastport for the event Sept. 30, which is open to the public at the city’s 400-foot-long Breakwater Pier.

“We’re very excited about it; I think it’s an honor for Augusta to be the namesake community. We’re looking forward to it — it should be a fun event, and we’re hoping as many people (as possible) from Augusta can get over to Eastport to celebrate the commissioning,” said Mayor Mark O’Brien. “For convenience sake, it would have been nice to have been closer to Augusta. But, on the other hand, Eastport is very familiar with the Navy, and the Navy is very familiar with Eastport.”

Eastport is about a three-and-a-half hour drive away from the capital in northeast Washington County.

While Eastport lacks proximity to Augusta, the city has extensive experience, and ample pier space, to host such events.

“Eastport is famous in the Navy; we host a Navy ship practically every Fourth of July, so, other than Bath Iron Works, we’ve probably handled more Navy vessels than anywhere in Maine,” said Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority. “And this community is a very welcoming community to events such as this. When the Navy comes to Eastport, it feels treated extremely well.”


Sarah Schultz-Nielsen, left, director of Lithgow Public Library, leads Cmdr. Christopher Polnaszek, commanding officer of the USS Augusta combat ship, on a tour of the building in February. Polnaszek traveled to Augusta earlier this year to learn more about the city and community for which his ship is named. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Gardner said the commissioning of a ship is considered the premier day in a ship’s history and is a longstanding tradition.

That first-ever Navy commissioning took place in 1775, when the HMS Margaretta was seized in the Battle of Machias and put into active service by the U.S. Navy. Gardner noted that means the USS Augusta will be put into service in the same county, Washington County, that hosted the Navy’s first commissioning in 1775.

Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson, spokesperson for the Naval Surface Force, said several factors informed the choice to use Eastport as opposed to a closer port such as Portland.

“The Navy takes a number of factors into account when we choose a commissioning location including input from state, civic and namesake community leaders, availability of port locations, facilities and the support of the community in which the ceremony will take place,” Abrahamson said.

Former Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, president and dean of University of Maine School of Law, will be the sponsor, giving the order to “bring our ship to life.”

The event has its own website, which includes links to pages with information about both Augusta and Eastport. The website also has links where donors can make contributions to help pay for some of the events Augusta officials are expected to host.


O’Brien said a committee formed to help plan at least four events Augusta will host before and after the ceremony. The group must also raise funds for those events. He said they have an ambitious $125,000 goal, though he said he’s sure, if they don’t raise quite that much, there will still be enough to meet the committee’s responsibilities.

Among the Augusta-hosted events, the Friday before the commissioning a sponsors’ luncheon will be followed that evening by a chairman’s reception. There will be a breakfast for distinguished guests the morning of the commissioning and a reception after the ceremony. O’Brien said the committee, co-chaired by Augusta residents Roger Pomerleau and Corey Vose, also hopes to host an event for the crew of the USS Augusta, to get to know them and help them get to know Augusta.

Abrahamson said some tours of the USS Augusta will be available in Eastport, but officials were still determining details.

O’Brien said no city funds have been committed to the events.

About 70 sailors will be assigned to the ship.

The USS Augusta is a littoral combat ship designed to strike fast, is able to be set up for a variety of missions, and has a shallow draft that allows it to provide defenses along the shoreline, Cmdr. Christopher Polnaszek, a highly decorated naval officer who will command the USS Augusta, told city councilors when he visited in February.


The ship was built at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala. Littoral ships cost about $500 million, according to media reports.

Gardner said Eastport is a small island city with two ports, so it can host Navy vessels without interfering with cargo handling at the other port.

USS Augusta is the second ship named in honor of the city of Augusta, Maine.

The Los Angeles-class submarine Augusta, or SSN 710, was commissioned in January 1985, at Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut, and served for 24 years.

SSN 710 took part in several operations, launching Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles against Iraqi military targets in 2003.

Following the commissioning, USS Augusta will transit to its homeport of San Diego.

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