Derby friends reconnect at commissioning of combat ship

Rocky Cornejo, left, with Brian Tanner aboard the newly commissioned USS Wichita. Tanner is an information systems technician on the ship. Cornejo and his wife, Juli, traveled to Florida for the commissioning ceremony and to visit Tanner and his wife, Katie. All four are DHS grads.

 

When the USS Wichita was commissioned earlier this month in Florida, Derby had a presence on hand. Residents Rocky Cornejo and his wife, Juli, traveled there to see the event and catch up with a couple of longtime friends.

“It was very cool to be at the ceremony and see the ship representing the largest city in Kansas,” said Cornejo, who works in the construction industry and also is a Derby City Council member.

Cornejo toured the ship, which he called “fascinating” because of the quality and quantity of its high tech equipment. The couple was there for four days and during that time, there were activities for friends and family of the crew along with the highlight, the commissioning ceremony, which attracted top Kansas politicians, including Rep. Ron Estes, who represents Derby along with the rest of the Fourth District, and Sen. Jerry Moran, who was the keynote speaker, and Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell.

The ceremony, complete with patriotic music by a band and red, white, and blue decorations, was a quality production, he said.

“Anything the military does is top-notch,” Cornejo said.

He said it’s that way with the U.S. Air Force at nearby McConnell Air Force Base and the same with the U.S. Navy.

The warship was officially placed into active service at a Jan. 12 commissioning ceremony at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., which is the ship’s assigned homeport.

Among the things Cornejo was happy about was the way the crew and officers reacted to the ship’s name.

“They really like the name and are proud of it,” he said.

The Cornejos also spent a lot of time with their good friends, Brian and Katie Tanner. Brian Tanner is an information systems technician responsible for voice and data communications aboard the ship.

All four are from Derby and went to Derby High School together and all graduated in the class of 2001.

The four simply enjoyed “hanging out,” he said. Due to Brian’s military career, the couple has had to move to a variety of assignments, including bases in California and Virginia.

“We hadn’t seen them in a while,” Cornejo said.

Thus, the time they spent together made the trip all the more special, he said.

This ceremony was the commissioning, which means that the ship is ready for active duty, Cornejo said.

Cornejo was careful to point out the difference between the christening and the launching and the commissioning.

The christening puts an identity on a ship’s hull and it’s launched into the water. However, a period of sea trials is required. That’s when the new crew and officers report for duty and run through a variety of tests to ensure that the ship can perform as needed. If there are issues, they are to be corrected. In the past, during wartime, such testing could be as short as a few weeks; however, for complex ships such as nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, it could be several years to operate sea trials, train the crew and work through procedures.

The USS Wichita is what is known as a Freedom variant littoral combat ship.

USS Wichita

These are quick, agile, mission-focused vessels designed to operate in near-shore environments.

They also are capable of open-ocean tasks and taking on coastal threats such as submarines, mines, and small craft.

The USS Wichita is the 14th littoral combat ship to enter the fleet and the seventh of the Freedom variant.

In a social media post, Moran echoes what Cornejo and others said about the ceremony.

“Saturday’s commissioning of the USS Wichita was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” Moran wrote.

He also met with past and present crew. “I know they will carry forward the name Wichita with pride,” he said.

The ship is part of a tradition as it is the third Navy combat ship named after Wichita.

The other two were a heavy cruiser in service from 1939 to 1947 and active during World War II, and a replenishment oiler in service from 1969 to 1993.

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