a large gray ship with red, white and blue stripes
The crew of the USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee line the ship’s rail following the order to ‘bring this ship to life.’ Photo courtesy of DVIDShub.net

“Officers and crew of the USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee, man our ship and bring her to life.”

Such were the orders given from the deck of the Navy’s newest guided-missile destroyer during its May 13 commissioning ceremony in Key West, where the 510-foot ship was draped in red, white and blue bunting and strung with colorful military pennants from end to end.

The 510-foot USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee at its Key West commissioning on May 13. (Photo courtesy of DVIDShub.net)

The pride, patriotism and pageantry of the U.S. Navy was on full display during the traditional ceremony that “brings the ship to life,” and officially launches her military service as the crew runs aboard to line the decks.

The USS Higbee has been at sea for a year or so testing its advanced systems under the direction of Commanding Officer Cmdr. Dougas Brayton and Executive Officer Cmdr. James Giles. The ship will be homeported in San Diego, California. The vessel, which was christened on April 24, 2021, at the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, can carry more than 90 missiles and is designed for multiple combat roles, including anti-aircraft warfare, surface to surface warfare, long-range cruise missile strikes, and anti-submarine warfare, according to the

A weeklong commissioning celebration included a concert for the crew, visits to dozens of Key West attractions — and a few late nights on Duval Street. Mayor Teri Johnston spoke at the commissioning to welcome the crew and their family members who made the trip.

During the ceremony on Saturday, May 13, Rear Adm. Cynthia Kuehner, commander of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, spoke of the ship’s namesake, Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee, a pioneer in the Navy Nurse Corps and the first woman to receive the Navy Cross for her service in World War I. Kuehner herself served as a Navy nurse in Fallujah, Iraq and now leads the division of all Navy nurses.

Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee entered the Navy in 1908, as one of the first 20 women to comprise the Navy Nurse Corps.

“We will run toward the danger. We will answer every call, because Lenah Higbee got it right,” Kuehner told the crew and a crowd of hundreds who lined the Navy’s Mole Pier. “Make no mistake, Lenah Higbee WILL care for you, her crew. And you will preserve her timeless and immortal legacy. She is indeed a warrior — and a Navy nurse.”

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro was also in attendance to welcome the ship to the Navy’s fleet. The ship’s three sponsors — Louisa Dixon, Virginia Munford, and R. Pickett Wilson — were on board for the commissioning. (Ship sponsors, by naval tradition, are typically prominent female civilians who are invited to “sponsor” a vessel. They are officially considered a crew member. They bestow good luck and protection, attend milestones in the ship’s career and present a gift to the ship and crew at its christening that remains onboard throughout the ship’s service.)

Under the secretary’s direction, the USS Higbee’s sponsors gave the iconic order, “Officers and crew of the USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee, man our ship and bring her to life.” With that, the ship’s 329 crew members ran aboard via two gangways, scampered up ladders to the upper decks, lined the rails in their dress whites and saluted the Key West crowd below.

“Captain, USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee is manned and ready, reporting for duty,” came the official announcement.

During his remarks, Commanding Officer Douglas Brayton said, “We recognize today the efforts that turn steel to keel. Here, you’ll find the most advanced war-fighting systems in the world. And there is no team I’d rather sail with.”

Godspeed, “Team Higbee.” The Keys Weekly wishes you fair winds, following seas and fierce protection.

Mandy Miles
Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.