KEY WEST, Fla — The countdown is on. Come Saturday, the U.S.S. Billings will be officially commissioned into service.
It’s the first time a navy ship has ever been named after Montana’s largest city.
There’s a large contingency of Montanans in Key West for the event, including the ship’s sponsor Sharla Tester, wife of Montana U.S. Senator Jon Tester. It was in July of 2017 that Sharla Tester shattered the ceremonial champagne bottle on the bow and officially launched the U.S.S. Billings.
Now a little over two years later, the littoral combat ship is in Key West for its commissioning, and so is Tester.
“I got goosebumps, I was so thrilled and so excited but more importantly I’m excited about the ship, I’m excited about the crew, but I’m more excited about the families. I want to celebrate the families,” Tester said.
Tester joined the crew and those families Thursday for a barbecue.
She told MTN how she sees her role as the ship’s sponsor.
“I’m taking it more as the mom and the grandma of the ship. Taking the ship, the crew and their families under my wing the best I can. Actually, they are taking pretty darn good care of me too. It should be the other way around, but that’s what I feel my role is for the next 30 years at least until the de-commission the ship,” she said.
With one of the highest percentages of military veterans in the country, Tester said she’s not surprised at the support the Navy’s newest ship is getting back home.
“I know Montanans, I know my own community, I know Billings. When something like this happens, we all step up to the plate and I wasn’t worried at all. I’m so excited for those that did step up to the plate that are here. I wasn’t worried in the least. Actually, I’m really proud of Billings and the state of Montana. This is huge. Montana is on the map. A landlocked state is on the map. That’s pretty cool,” Tester said.
Her husband, Sen. Jon Tester lobbied for a ship to be named after Billings.
He’ll be giving the principal address at Saturday’s commissioning.