The future USS Carl Levin is still under construction at Bath Iron Works. Upon completion, the ship’s homeport will be Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Bath Iron Works held a christening ceremony Saturday for its 38th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the future USS Carl Levin, named for Michigan’s longest-serving senator who died in July at age 87.

About 250 people attended the ceremony, including Maine lawmakers, Sen. Levin’s family, and the crew of the future USS Carl Levin. The celebration was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Levin’s three daughters, Kate Levin Markel, Laura Levin and Erica Levin, acted as the ships sponsors and spoke at the event alongside other lawmakers and Navy officials.

Both Sen. Levin’s family and colleagues spoke about his dedication to the military. Throughout his 36 years as Michigan’s senator and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he pushed for defense spending and advocated for better conditions for military personnel.

Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, nephew of Carl Levin, said the future USS Carl Levin embodies his uncle and his life’s work protecting, serving and providing for those in the armed services. His uncle was also “overwhelmed” by the honor of being the namesake of a naval ship.

“I can honestly say, amidst all the accolades he received in 50 years of public service, this one meant most to him, and it truly captures his devotion to our nation,” said Rep. Levin.

“Being the namesake of this great ship really was the highest honor of our dad’s career,” said Kate Levin Markel. “He was so thrilled to be here in Bath in early 2019 for the keel-laying, and to return later that year to walk the ship and speak with some of you who were building it. Dad’s connection to this ship, its leaders and its growing crew kept his spirit’s high through his last days.”

During the ceremony, Sen. Levin’s youngest daughter and one of the ship’s sponsors, Erica Levin, read a statement her father wrote this summer during his final days. In his remarks, Sen. Levin wrote when he was told a Navy ship would bear his name, the news was “a huge surprise and an incredible honor.”

Sen. Carl Levin’s daughters and sponsors of the ship stand at the ship’s bow. Pictured from left: Erica Levin, Kate Levin Markel and Laura Levin. DENNIS GRIGGS

“Just as those who serve aboard this vessel pledge to be tenacious in the fight, I also hope they will know that I, Barbara, our daughters, the ship’s sponsors, and our entire family will always have this ship and her crew on our minds and in our hearts,” Sen. Levin’s statement read.

The ship is about 510 feet long and 67 feet wide with a displacement of 9,200 tons. It holds a crew of 279 and can reach speeds in excess of 30 knots, according to General Dynamics.

Construction started in early 2019, and the ship was launched on May 19, 2021. The ship is expected to undergo sea trials early next year. Upon completion, the ship’s home port will be Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The future USS Carl Levin will be the 70th Arleigh Burke to join the Navy’s fleet.

Just as Sen. Levin’s family said the Bath-built ship represents and honors all Sen. Levin worked for, BIW President Dirk Lesko said Sen. Levin “set a standard for service that resonates strongly in this shipyard.”

“He showed that each of us, through principled commitment, diligent effort and unwavering perseverance, has the capacity to contribute great things to this nation,” said Lesko. “I’m grateful for the dedication of our shipbuilders who uphold that promise every day. For the new employees who are focused on learning an essential craft, to the experienced shipbuilders demonstrating the proficiency and expectation of excellence it takes to build Navy ships of the highest quality. These men and women have overcome significant challenges so that the critical infrastructure that is this shipyard could continue to perform its mission.”

BIW President Dirk Lesko addresses the crowd during the christening ceremony for the future USS Carl Levin. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Gov. Janet Mills said Sen. Levin will be remembered not just for his character, but for who and what he advocated on behalf of. In Maine, Sen. Levin is remembered as one of the lawmakers who secured funding for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which brought work that has supported the lives of thousands of Mainers for decades, she said.

About 15 peace activists also gathered outside the shipyard Saturday to peacefully protest the christening ceremony, but none were arrested, according to Bath police. According to a statement from an activist, the protest was organized “in an effort to draw attention to the massive emission of greenhouse gases contributed by the U.S. military.”  

BIW has about 7,400 employees and has been hiring new workers in droves over the past few years to reverse production delays inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a strike last summer that removed over half of its machinists from the workforce for over two months and help replace retiring workers.

Getting back on track to build two ships a year, a goal listed by Lesko in a report on the company earlier this year, would also make the shipyard more attractive when competing for new ship contracts.

Though Arleigh Burke-class destroyers like the future USS Carl Levin are BIW’s bread and butter, it is the only type of ship the company builds with the exception of the Zumwalt-class destroyers, the last of which, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson, is nearing completion.

The third and final Zumwalt underwent sea trials in late August and returned early last month. According to BIW Program Manager Edward Kenyon, the warship and team aboard the ship “performed particularly well” throughout the trials.

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