An estimated 9,000 spectators are expected at the new USS Little Rock's commissioning Saturday at Canalside, with excitement building in Buffalo for the ceremony marking the $440 million warship's entry into the Navy's fleet.
But people in Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas, are also excited.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and former Little Rock Mayor Tom Prince are in Buffalo with a contingent of about 40 citizens to witness the commissioning.
"This is a tremendously significant event," Stodola said. "It is an opportunity for us to celebrate the unique character and friendship between Little Rock's citizens and the sailors on the ship."
When the ceremony starts, hundreds more in Little Rock will be watching.
"We are having a watch party at a theater in Little Rock," said Stodola, who arrived here Thursday. "It will be live-streamed."
An estimated 300 Little Rock residents, perhaps more, will be watching in the Ron Robinson Theater, according to John Gill, a Little Rock attorney and a vice chairman of that city's Little Rock Namesake Committee — USS Little Rock LCS9.
The city, the mayor said, could not be prouder to have its name associated with the Navy's newest class of combat ships charged with "keeping the world safe and promoting democracy throughout the world."
For the first time in the Navy's 242 years, a new ship will be commissioned beside a decommissioned ship of the same name.
The former USS Little Rock is anchored at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park. It arrived here 40 years ago and is one of the park's main attractions.
Maurice L. "Moe" Naylon III, chairman of the USS Little Rock Commissioning Committee, said Buffalo and its residents are making a positive impression on the ship's crew and citizens from Little Rock.
Prince, chairman of the Little Rock Namesake Committee, told Naylon how touched the committee was by the "warm and engaging welcome" they have received in Buffalo, Naylon said.
In paying what he believes is the highest possible tribute to Buffalo, Prince said, "It reminds me of home." The snow and cold, he added, "can be overlooked because of the warmth of the people."
Here's what those attending the commissioning Saturday need to know:
- Canalside security checkpoints open at 8 a.m. Everyone must pass through security checkpoints that include metal detectors and military working dogs. There will be bag inspections. Weapons are not allowed
- If possible, make use of public transportation to reduce congestion at parking lots near Canalside.
- Adults must have photo identification in addition to tickets. Children younger than 16 do not need photo ID, but they must be with an adult and have a ticket.
- No private boats are permitted within 100 yards of the USS Little Rock in the Buffalo River. Airspace above Canalside is also restricted, and that includes drones.
- Organizers urge spectators to pay close attention to the weather forecast and dress appropriately.
- The ceremony is expected to conclude at 12:30 p.m.
- Public tours of the ship will begin after the ceremony, but only for those who had tickets to the ceremony, because those people will have gone through the security checkpoints.
On Monday or Tuesday, the new USS Little Rock will depart for the Mayport Naval Station in Florida.