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New USS Little Rock departs Buffalo, embarks on journey to Florida

As the crew of the new USS Little Rock shoved off this morning to begin its voyage to Mayport Naval Station in Florida, it left with a boatload of good memories.

The culmination happened Saturday when an estimated 8,500 spectators witnessed the ship's commissioning at Canalside, the first time in the Navy's 242 years that a new ship officially entered the fleet beside its decommissioned namesake.

The Little Rock was supposed to depart earlier this week, but the ship's commander said he decided to wait until today because of weather conditions on Lake Erie.

And now that the $440 million warship is officially underway, it carries with it a gift from the old USS Little Rock, docked at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.

"We permanently loaned 40 pieces of the former Little Rock's admiral's silver service to the new USS Little Rock as a tangible symbol that the torch is being passed from one generation to the next," said John Branning, the Naval Park's superintendent of ships.

Cmdr. Todd Peters had described the hospitality extended by citizens here as overwhelming.

"Being in Buffalo was everything we could have asked for and more," he said.

The weather even cooperated for Little Rock Ensign Bailey Elizabeth Rhodes, who hails from Texas and had hoped to experience snow for the first time.

While attending the Dec. 10 Buffalo Bills game against the Indianapolis Colts at New Era Field, she said, the snow was so fierce she could hardly see the Colts in their white jerseys.

"They were camouflaged into the blizzard," Rhodes said. "Despite the frigid temperatures, we were given the warmest of welcomes, and I can't thank all of the people that I've met for their hospitality."

Fenders were placed on the sides of the ship Monday in preparation for its passage through the Welland Canal and into Lake Ontario. From there, the Little Rock heads east into the St. Lawrence Seaway with a holiday stop in Montreal. The ship then continues east making its way out into the Atlantic Ocean and south to Florida.

The new year, Peters said, promises to be a busy one for the crew.

"We'll be testing combat systems and training," Peters said, pointing out that the crew has already proved its mettle. They previously completed a battery of assessments in 63 days when it was expected to take 121 days.

The relatively small crew of 72 sailors and officers is required to perform multiple tasks, which includes the ability to conduct different types of combat missions.

Once the upcoming testing and training is finished, the ship will begin conducting missions. Many of the ships in this new class of vessels, known as littoral combat ships, serve in southeast Asia, where they can access shallow ports that older Navy ships cannot.

And as for the old Little Rock's silverware, Branning says there is still plenty of it here.

"The majority of the silver service will continue to be stored at the Naval Park, with many of the items continually on display on the second floor of the Naval Park's museum," he said.

Local Navy veteran who served on first USS Little Rock reminisces

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