The U.S. Navy christened its newest Expeditionary Sea Base vessel USNS Miguel Keith (ESB 5) during a ceremony on Oct. 19, at General Dynamics NASSCO facility in San Diego, CA.
The vessel is named in honor of Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Miguel Keith. She is the first ship to bear the name and was announced by the then U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Richard V. Spencer during a ceremony in National Harbor, Maryland on Nov. 4, 2017.
Retired Gen. Walter E. Boomer, USMC, 24th assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, delivered the ceremony’s principal address. In a time-honored Navy tradition, Keith’s mother Eliadora Delores Keith, who serves as the ship’s sponsor, broke a bottle of sparkling wine across the bow to formally christen the ship.
Keith was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1951. He left North High School in Omaha, Nebraska, in December 1968, and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve at Omaha Jan. 21, 1969. He was discharged on April 30, 1969, and enlisted in the regular Marine Corps on May 1, 1969.
In 1969, Keith served as a machine gunner with Combined Action Platoon 132, III Marine Amphibious Force in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam. He was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal on April 1, 1970.
He was severely wounded on the morning of May 8, 1970, when his platoon came under a heavy-ground attack. Despite being injured in the attack and open to hostile fire, he continued to engage the enemy with heavy machine gun (HMG) fire.
Keith’s efforts resulted in him killing three attackers and dispersing two remaining adversaries. Despite receiving further serious injuries caused by an enemy grenade, he continued to advance upon an estimated 25 enemy soldiers, killing four and dispersing the rest.
Keith was mortally wounded, but his performance in the face of overwhelming odds contributed, in no small measure, to the success of his platoon defeating a numerically superior enemy force.
ESB class ships are highly flexible, modular platforms optimized to support a variety of maritime-based missions including Special Operations Force (SOF) and Airborne Mine Counter Measures (AMCM) support operations in addition to humanitarian support and sustainment of traditional military missions.
Built by General Dynamics NASSCO, the Montford Point-class is comprised of five ships across two variants: expeditionary transfer dock (ESD) and expeditionary sea base (ESB). USNS Montford Point (T-ESD 1), USNS John Glenn (T-ESD 2), and USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), and USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) have been delivered to the fleet.
Miguel Keith is the third platform of the ESB variant and is scheduled to be delivered later this year. The keel laying for the vessel was conducted on Jan. 30 last year.
The 784-foot-long vessel has an aviation hangar and a 52,000 sq. ft. flight deck that includes four operating spots capable of landing MV-22 Osprey and MH-53E Sea Stallion equivalent helicopters, accommodations, workspaces, and ordnance storage for an embarked force. The platform will also provide enhanced command and control, communications, computers, and intelligence capabilities to support embarked force mission planning and execution. The reconfigurable mission deck area can store embarked force equipment including mine sleds and rigid hull inflatable boats.
The ESB vessels are/will be operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) with predominantly civilian crews, with the exception of USS Lewis B. Puller, which owing to the nature of her operations, was commissioned and now operated directly by the Navy with USN crews. After commissioning on 17 August 2017 in Bahrain, Lewis B. Puller’s prefix changed from USNS to USS and her hull designation changed from T-ESB-3 to ESB-3.