First Lady makes history as a Coast Guard ‘first’

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PASCAGOULA, Miss. – Distinguished guests including the First Lady, Secretary of Homeland Security and Coast Guard Commandant honor Capt. Dorothy Stratton during the christening of the Coast Guard’s third National Security Cutter, Stratton, July 23, 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey Ranel.

Capt. Dorothy Stratton has captured the attention of many people since her inception as the first female in the Coast Guard in 1942, but I wonder if she ever thought the list would include the First Lady of the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security the 24th Commandant of the Coast Guard, the Governor and First Lady of Mississippi, and many other distinguished guests – all at the same time.

“It’s a wonderful day for women,” said the First Lady of Mississippi, Marsha Barbour. “We are making history here in Mississippi today!”

The audience’s overwhelming patriotism and pride radiated as handheld American flags waved above heads and the crowd of more than 3,000 roared with applause as the First Lady walked on to the stage.

PASCAGOULA, Miss. – Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp, addresses the audience at the christening ceremony for Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, July 23, 2010. U. S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey J. Ranel.

“Our service could not be more honored than to have our First Lady, Michelle Obama, serve as the Stratton’s sponsor and carry on this time honored tradition,” said Adm. Robert Papp, Coast Guard Commandant.

“I am very excited and honored to be the first First Lady to christen a Coast Guard ship,” said Obama. “Dorothy Stratton was one of the finest first women in uniform.”

As Obama spoke of Capt. Stratton, she recalled the strength and tenacity it must have required to break through the barriers Capt. Stratton faced.

“Perhaps most remarkably, Captain Stratton broke all these barriers in just four short years. Yet those four years gave birth to a legacy that lives on even today,” said Obama.

“Captain Dorothy Stratton taught us about the power of a single individual to bring about real change,” she said. “Captain Stratton taught us what’s possible when people are given the opportunity to show their potential.”

Walking behind the stage out to the christening platform that hugs the bow of the Stratton, the First Lady prepared to break the christening bottle of champagne against the ship.

PASCAGOULA, Miss. – First lady, Michelle Obama, christens the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton by breaking a champagne bottle over the bow of the cutter, July 23, 2010. U. S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey J. Ranel.

“In the name of the United States of America, I christen thee Stratton. May God bless this ship and all who sail on her,” she recites.

Two hard swings and the bottle cracked, slightly spraying the First Lady and simultaneously giving rebirth to Capt. Dorothy Stratton’s legacy as the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton officially received her name.

“By choosing Captain Dorothy Stratton as the cutter’s namesake, a great challenge has been issued to her crew and to our service – make this cutter a fitting tribute to her namesake,” said Papp.

The christening is not just a milestone for the cutter but also for the Coast Guard.

“As we stand before the Stratton and prepare to enter her into service, we are reminded of the indispensible role the Coast Guard plays,” said Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security.

“Demand for our services continues to outpace our capability to provide them,” said Papp. “Christening Stratton is an important step in investing in our Coast Guard’s future.”

The National Security Cutters, like Stratton, bring multi-mission capabilities, speed, endurance, range and technological advancements to the Coast Guard fleet.

“Our dedicated men and women need Stratton’s capabilities, to execute their duties and the Coast Guard’s challenging maritime missions,” said Papp.

The shipbuilders of Northrop Grumman will continue to work to bring the Stratton to completion. The next phase, sea trials, is expected to begin next summer with an anticipated commissioning of early 2012.

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