The USNS John Glenn will be docked at Naval Magazine Indian Island for the month of December. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

The USNS John Glenn will be docked at Naval Magazine Indian Island for the month of December. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Ship named after astronaut John Glenn at Indian Island

NAVAL MAGAZINE INDIAN ISLAND — The USNS John Glenn, named for the recently deceased astronaut, made its first visit to Naval Magazine Indian Island for a brief port visit after undergoing minor modifications in Portland, Ore.

The crew of the USNS John Glenn honored the ship’s namesake, who died Dec. 8 at the age of 95, by inviting area media and Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson aboard for a tour of the state-of-the-art ship Monday.

“You could say he [Glenn] was there at the cutting edge and that’s kind of what this ship does,” Stinson said.

“A lot of those innovations that came out of the space program are being used on this ship today.”

The USNS John Glenn was given its name in 2014 at a ceremony attended by Glenn and his family.

Glenn is best known as the first American to orbit earth.

In 1962, Glenn circled the earth three times aboard the Friendship 7. He was also the oldest astronaut in space at the age of 77 abroad the shuttle Discovery in 1998.

“He also had a military career of his own,” said Bill McCullough, captain of the USNS John Glenn.

“This ship is named for him partially because he was a Marine Corps hero.”

Glenn served in both World War II and Korea and was a Marine Corps fighter pilot, earning six Distinguished Flying Crosses and 18 Air Medals.

Glenn served as a U.S. Senator for Ohio from 1974 to 1999. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

His namesake, the USNS John Glenn, is a U.S. Navy expeditionary transfer dock ship. It is currently crewed by 34 contractors from Ocean Ships Inc.

While it has never been deployed, according to McCullough, it has been used up and down the west coast of the United States as a trial platform for experimental military vehicles including unmanned vehicles.

The ship is built from a retired oil tanker. The middle of the ship was removed and the hull was filled with tanks. The pump system was used to pump oil into and out of the tanker, and now pumps water into and out of the vessel — allowing it to sink to deploy hovercrafts.

According to McCullough, it takes the ship roughly 18 hours to fill or empty its tanks — making it impractical in combat situations.

However, the Navy has looked at the technology now being tested on the USNS John Glenn as an effective way to deploy troops for humanitarian missions.

“There’s only one other ship besides us who can do this,” McCullough said. “We’re limited now but we’re trying to push the limit all the time, obviously to help support the men on the ground or at sea.

“Our job for now is simply to bring the vessel from point A to point B.”

With a huge cargo platform on board, the ship can carry more than just the hovercrafts that are deployed from the three bays on the lowered deck. According to McCullough, the ship can carry anything from a tank to smaller armored vehicles.

“Basically if we can get it on the ramp, we can carry it,” McCullough said.

While the ship itself needs only 34 crew members to sail, it is built to support the more than 100 soldiers that would come in those armored vehicles and hover crafts, McCullough said.

The USNS John Glenn is at Naval Magazine Indian Island for a pit stop before heading back down the coast.

The ship is scheduled to leave sometime in January. For now, it can be seen from the Port Townsend waterfront, parked off the pier on Indian Island.

________

Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.

Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson and Commanding Officer Nick Vande Griend take in the view of Port Townsend from the USNS John Glenn at Indian Island. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson and Commanding Officer Nick Vande Griend take in the view of Port Townsend from the USNS John Glenn at Indian Island. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

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