PASCAGOULA, Miss. -- In keeping with an ancient mariner's custom, USS Arlington (LPD 24) Sailors and Marines "stepped the mast" of the amphibious transport dock in a ceremony on March 6, 2013. About 50 crew members and employees of Huntington Ingalls Industries' (HII) shipyard, where Arlington has been under construction for four years, attended the ceremony at the base of the forward mast. They gathered around as HII's Carlos Turner welded a small corrosion-proof box, which contained a number of "good luck" pieces, to the mast. "It's an honor to be the first crew of this warship, and take part in this ceremony," said Arlington Commanding Officer Cmdr. Darren Nelson. "This is something very few people get to take part in, so it's great that we had as many crew members come to this, while we had the chance." The box contains 24 pennies and other coins, with dates significant to the history of the ship and her sponsor, Mrs. Joyce Rumsfeld; a piece of steel from the Pentagon; Arlington County Fire Department and Police Department badges; the names of the 184 heroes and victims whose lives were lost on 9-11 in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, and other items. "The custom of 'stepping the mast' by placing coins under the step or bottom of a ship's mast during construction dates back many years," explains Arlington's official program for the event. "Greek mythology states these coins would ensure payment of the crew's wages for their return trip should the ship be wrecked. Since at least the construction of USS Constitution, the tradition has been passed on as a means of enduring good luck for the ship."
Arlington's service life is projected to be 40 years. Nelson said he intends to return to the ship for her decommissioning ceremony and the reopening of the box, when he is about 82 years old. "I left some personal mementos in the box for the decommissioning commanding officer, so I'd like to be here for that," Nelson said. Arlington is the eighth in the Navy's San Antonio class of ships, designed to be the most survivable amphibious vessels ever put to sea. The third ship in the U.S. fleet to bear the name, Arlington will be commissioned on April 6, 2013 and homeported in Norfolk, Va. The ship combines 21st century amphibious shipbuilding and warfighting technologies to support current and future Marine Corps aircraft and landing craft, and will be capable of taking nearly 1,200 Sailors and Marines into harm's way.