The USS Mount Whitney is one of two Blue Ridge class amphibious command ships (LCCs), both of which are currently in active service. Named after the highest point in the United States—the 14,946-foot Mount Whitney in the Sierra-Nevada mountain range in California—the USS Mount Whitney is the first and only vessel of the US Navy’s fleet to take on this name. Bearing the motto “Success Begins with Teamwork,” Mount Whitney has achieved historical significance as the first US Navy combatant vessel to have permanent accommodations for women on board. The USS Mount Whitney serves as the flagship of the Sixth Fleet as well as Commander, Joint Command Lisbon and Commander, Striking Force North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Originally ordered on August 10, 1966 as an amphibious force flagship—ACG-20—the USS Mount Whitney was reclassified as LCC-20 on January 1, 1969. Her keel was laid down a few days later on January 8th at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company (Newport News, Virginia). Launched on January 8, 1970, the Mount Whitney was commissioned just over a year later on January 16, 1971. Upon commissioning, Captain Orlie G. Baird took command of the ship’s initial crew.
The USS Mount Whitney, powered by two boilers and one geared steam turbine, is capable of reaching speeds of up to 20 knots. Measuring 620 feet in length, this vessel displaces 18,400 tons (full load). Her mechanisms of defense include two 25 mm Bushmaster guns, four .50 caliber machine guns, two Phalanx CIWS (radar-guided Gatling guns mounted on swiveling bases), and super rapid bloom off-board chaff (SRBOC) system launchers.
The USS Mount Whitney’s key distinctive feature is her highly sophisticated satellite communications system. Considered by many to be unmatched, this system can process and transmit extensive amounts of secure data from virtually any point on earth. As a result, the Mount Whitney is responsible for providing the most timely and operational intelligence available within the US Navy.
Mount Whitney’s other features are also impressive: she is capable of transporting enough food and supplies to sustain her crew for 90 days; she can produce 100,000gallons of fresh water per day; she can accommodate sufficient supplies for up to 3,000 people during an evacuation; she can store one million gallons of fuel; and she possesses enough electrical power to supply a small city.
In her over 41 years of service to date, the USS Mount Whitney has transited the waters of the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and North Atlantic regions conducting operational maneuvers.
The year 2004 not only marked Mount Whitney’s assignment to a new homeport of Gaeta, Italy, but the integration of civilian sailors into her crew. Once employing a complement of as many as 600 sailors, Mount Whitney’s crew now consists of approximately 170 Navy officers and enlisted men in conjunction with 155 civilians.
In addition to her normal operational duties, Mount Whitney has participated in humanitarian efforts since her arrival in Italy in February of 2005. Most recently (March 2011), she was responsible for enforcing the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973—a proposition by France, Lebanon, and the United Kingdom that provides a legal foundation in support of military intervention in the Libyan civil war with the ultimate aim of providing protection to civilians.
As of the present time, the USS Mount Whitney has yet to be decommissioned and remains on active duty. A decorated vessel, her awards to date include two Navy Unit Commendations, two Meritorious Unit Commendation Medals, 11 Navy Battle Efficiency “E” Awards, two National Defense Service Medals, an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and a Humanitarian Service Medal.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20)
The USS Mount Whitney is still operational and thus, those individuals who serve aboard this vessel are at risk for potential exposure to asbestos.
At the time the USS Mount Whitney was constructed (late 1960s-early 1970s), the naturally-occurring mineral known as asbestos was still employed to a great extent within the shipbuilding industry. Recognized as the best and most cost-effective means of providing heat and fire-resistance aboard her ships, the US Navy mandated the use of asbestos products ranging from insulation materials to gaskets, valves, adhesives, and cables, to name a few.
While there has since been limitations placed on the industrial applications of asbestos—a substance now identified by several government agencies to be a known human carcinogen—its use in the United States has yet to be banned. An estimated 1.5 million pounds of this toxin is contained in an array of products sold and distributed in our country each year. In addition, there are limited restrictions regarding sites of asbestos exposure as a result of past use. In short, vessels such as the USS Whitney remain in circulation and in turn, remain a potential threat to human health and safety.
When asbestos products are disturbed during maintenance or demolition procedures, or when they simply deteriorate due to the natural process of aging, asbestos fibers are released into the surrounding environment where they are poised for human inhalation and/or ingestion.
Once inside the human body, asbestos fibers have the ability to linger for great lengths of time producing changes to human membranes that can eventually result in the onset of one or more diseases scientifically linked to asbestos exposure: asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer.
Please consult our website or contact us for an information packet to obtain a detailed outline of the vast array of resources currently available to victims of asbestos exposure.Sources
Wikipedia–USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive
United States Navy: USS Mount Whitney