All Aboard!

By  | 

She's designed to transport Marines and their combat gear anywhere they need to go. The USS Ashland has a total crew of about 300 people, but is ready to take on about 500 marines.

John Meise, one of the sailors, compares the ship to another vehicle.

"If you want an analogy for this ship, it's akin to a pick-up truck. The stuff we pick up, it's not gravel, it's not dirt, it's a bunch of marines and all their gear."

The Ashland uses landing craft air cushions, called L-CAC, developed and maintained at the Naval Surface Warfare in Panama City. With this ability, the commanding officer , Gary Boardman, explains they can get across any beach, they don't need a port.

"We have two L-CACs on board right now in the well of our ship. We normally carry two to four to support the Marine Corp ashore."

The HSV Swift is docked just next to the Ashland and is quite a bit smaller and it's not your usual Navy ship. With its cruise ship-like cabins and mess hall with a panoramic view, this group knows they are very different from its naval neighbor at the port.

Lt. Commander Daniel Harris calls the ship a ferry boat with a jet ski engine.

"These ships were originally designed to be a ferryboat. As a matter of fact, one of them, almost this same exact ship, is running from Bar Harbour, Maine to Novia Scotia. There's a lot of similarities between the two ships, but there's also a lot of differences when it comes to the militarization of this vessel."

It can reach speeds of 42 knots and currently carries a crew of 40 people. The Swift is also the interim mine warfare command center for the Navy.

You can tour the USS Ashland from 9 to noon Tuesday and Wednesday. You need to park in the parking lot just east of Burger King next to the Port of Panama City. Bring a photo ID. The ship is not accessible to people in strollers or wheelchairs.