September 21, 2012 10:35:20 AM
Thanks to Secretary of the Navy Ray Maybus, a Starkville woman was given the honor of christening a new high-speed vessel last Saturday in Mobile.
Theresa Pitts, professional development coordinator for the Starkville School District, was selected along with 28 women as sponsors for the USNS Choctaw County.
"We are sponsors for the life of the vessel," Pitts said. "We will be expected to be an integral part of the crew that sails it."
Secretary Maybus grew up in Ackerman and graduated high school with all 29 sponsors, all the women in his high school graduating class, in 1966.
In an ode to the hard working, rural communities of America, Maybus had the joint high-speed transport vessel ship named the USNS Choctaw County. In addition to Mississippi's Choctaw County, there are two other Choctaw counties in the U.S. The new ship will honor all three of the counties.
Maybus, in an interview with a Mobile television station, said, "This is one of the happiest events, and most personally satisfying events I've had in my life," Mabus told a Mobile TV station during Saturday's ceremonies.
Only 18 of the 29 women were able to attend the invitation-only event, but Pitts said some classmates who had never been able to make it to a reunion, made it to Austal USA last Saturday. She said she saw people she hasn't seen since graduation night.
"I still get goose bumps thinking about how we just kicked up like we were in high school," Pitts said, "like it was 1966."
Unlike most class reunions, Saturday's experience had an education benefit, Pitts said.
Besides never having been to a christening before, much less being the one who actually gets to break the champagne, Pitts said the tours of Austal and the Spearhead, USNS Choctaw's mirror ship, were both jam-packed with information she would might have otherwise never known.
"To see what actually goes into ship building, and that every single piece serves a very direct function," she said. "You can't even imagine the size of these things."
Work is still underway on the USNS Choctaw County, so the sponsors were unable to tour the ship on Saturday.
But the christening actually occurred in the hanger where the final touches of the ship are being added. Raised on a platform, Pitts gave two speeches and presented the ship's crew with a gift, which includes photos from Choctaw County, before giving a two-handed baseball swing at the side of the ship with an oversized bottle of champagne.
Pitts said she couldn't thank Secretary Maybus enough, and that this was just more evidence that the Ray Maybus that graduated from Ackerman High in 1966, is the same Ray Maybus that heads up a billion-dollar budget and oversees one of the world's most revered military institutions.
"He has been diligent to come to as many reunions as he could," Pitts said. "The last reunion he had intended on coming, but was unable to at the last minute. We found out later that it was (when) they were going after Bin Laden, so he was probably a little busy."
According to Pitts, the sponsors made some history of their own last Saturday as well. There have never been this many sponsors for a Navy vessel before, but Pitts thinks that will play to their advantage.
"We will stay in contact with the ship and its crew and be notified when it arrives and leaves port," she said. "We can be as involved as we want. Being so many of us, it shouldn't be difficult."