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Hopes high Bill Clinton will attend Buffalo commissioning of Navy ship

Former President Bill Clinton will be invited and it is hoped he will attend in September the commissioning of the USS Little Rock in Buffalo, one of the Navy's newest and swiftest combat vessels, a law enforcement source and two members of the area's military community told The Buffalo News.

"If President Clinton does come, it will be a fantastic honor," Col. Patrick J. Cunningham, executive director of the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, said when asked about the visit.

However, Moe Naylon, chairman of the commissioning committee, pointed out that official invitations have not yet been sent out, because a firm date for the ship's commissioning has not been finalized.

The tentative date is Sept. 30.

"When we get a firm date, we will invite all of the living presidents to the commissioning," Naylon said. "We're hopeful that President Clinton will come, but we have no expectation at this point."

The invitation to Clinton will be extended because he is a native of Arkansas and the state's former governor and because the ship is named for the state's capital. Already scheduled to attend the commissioning is outgoing Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who served on the decommissioned Little Rock.

In fact, it was Mabus who named the new Little Rock.

Cunningham said the commissioning of the ship will not only be a major event for Buffalo but also historic:

"At no time in history has any other Navy ship bearing the name of its predecessor been commissioned while alongside its predecessor."

Former President Bill Clinton will be invited to the September commissioning of the USS Little Rock in Buffalo. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

This is the first time a Navy ship is being commissioned in Buffalo.

The original USS Little Rock was commissioned at the end of World War II.

The new USS Little Rock is a littoral combat ship, which allows it to navigate closer to shorelines and can take on illicit-trafficking operations in places such as the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, as well as counter-piracy operations in places such as around the Horn of Africa.

A core crew of 50 will operate the new ship, plus 20 to 23 more sailors depending on the mission-specific equipment brought aboard. That means the total size of the crew will peak at fewer than 100, compared to the original Little Rock, which had a crew of up to 1,400.

The new Little Rock can also move at speeds of up to 40 knots, which makes it one of the fastest ships in the Navy's fleet.

There are eight other ships of this type.

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