Navy Secretary Ray Mabus visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a ship-naming ceremony in honor of a civil rights hero in Congress.
Mabus announced that the first of the Navy's new generation of fleet replenishment oilers will be named USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205).
Lewis, a Democrat, has represented Georgia's 5th Congressional District since 1987. He was also one of the "Big Six" civil rights leaders -- a list that also includes Martin Luther King Jr. -- was a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and one of the original 13 Freedom Riders. Lewis is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the most prestigious U.S. award given to a civilian.
At an afternoon ceremony in the Cannon House Office Building, Mabus said the naming was a fitting tribute to Lewis's accomplishments.
"As the first of its class, the future USNS John Lewis will play a vital role in the mission of our Navy and Marine Corps while also forging a new path in fleet replenishment," the secretary said in a statement. "Naming this ship after John Lewis is a fitting tribute to a man who has, from his youth, been at the forefront of progressive social and human rights movements in the U.S., directly shaping both the past and future of our nation."
Mabus added that the new class of oilers would represent the freedoms Lewis had defended for decades into the future.
"His example will live on in the steel of that ship and in all those who will serve aboard her," Mabus said.
The John Lewis will be used by Military Sealift Command to fuel ships underway and provide them with jet fuel for aircraft aboard and resupply. The last fleet replenishment oiler, the USNS Rappahannock, entered service 20 years ago in 1995.
A contract is scheduled to be awarded to build the John Lewis this summer and construction is slated to begin in 2018.
The Navy plans to buy a total of 17 oilers as part of the new fleet. The service included $674 million in its budget request for fiscal 2016, which began Oct. 1, for the first vessel in the class.
Two ship-builders -- Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., based in Newport News, Virginia, and General Dynamics Corp., based in Falls Church, Virginia -- are expected to bid for the program.
The Navy has proposed bundling the oilers with other acquisition efforts including a big-deck amphibious assault ship and a new class of amphibious dock ships to boost competition and reduce costs.