Good evening from Key West Florida—we are ready for the long awaited commissioning of the USS Billings.
For most of the past two years, the USS Billings Commissioning Committee has worked tirelessly to make this a reality---- and tonight it was time to say some thank yous.
"Thank you for your contributions and your friendship. We could never have done this without you committee," said Billings Mayor Bill Cole.
The reason was that our committee and our city was committed to honor our active duty military and our veterans.
As the chairman of the USS Billings Committee, Mayor Bill Cole described the process of getting to the commissioning weekend as two years of drinking out the proverbial fire hydrant—but that drink has been satisfying one.
"I’m honored to have worked beside the other members of the Billings Commissioning Committee and dozens of sponsors and Montana volunteers who have donated thousands of dollars, valuable in-kind services to honor the crew and support the ship and your hometown," said Cole.
Senator Jon Tester added “As mayor Cole was listing off all the people to thank, I was going through in my head in case he forgot anyone and he did forget one, he forgot Mayor Cole. Thank you Mayor Cole."
One of the biggest applause of the night went to senator Tester’s wife—Sharla—the ship’s sponsor.
"I’m here for three things, the ship, it’s awesome crew and it’s families. And right now this weekend it’s families first. I love you guys. I love the sailors. The ships great. But I’m focusing on the families because without —without their service—none of them would be able to do. And for that I’m extremely grateful so I want to give a hand," Said Sharla Tester.
And the Magic City will continue to give the USS Billings crew a hand. It was announced tonight that well over $150,000 dollars has been raised to establish a long term legacy fund to support the special needs of the crew that cannot be covered by the Navy.
“This was a giant we began a few years ago and yet it changes directions tomorrow. We go from a commissioning committee to a crew support committee," said Denis Pitman, USS Billings Commissioning Committee
There were also other gifts to be given--- all with a Montana flavor—including a blanket from the Rocky Mountain tribal leader’s council.
“Please accept this blanket s brought to you the gift of the American Indians is to commemorate important milestones and achievements. The blanket is an important acknowledgment of our friendship gratitude and respect.”
“To everyone who showed up tonight I would like to say thank you. To all the presenters I would like to say thank you for your gifts.
And finally one final gift to the captain and his crew--- the key to the city of Billings," said Commander Nate Owen.
“It is my privilege and honor as mayor of the city of Billings to present Captain Rowan and the crew of the USS Billings with this, the key to the city of Billings as symbol of the fact that you will always be welcome in our city and that we always keep you in our thoughts and our prayers," said Cole.
Really quite a night here—of course Saturday is the big day as the USS Billings will be officially commissioned into service--- we’ll be there to cover it for you.