Stephen Rutkowski helped commission USS Bainbridge 4.29.09

Written by David Green.

A story in last week’s Observer highlighted a Fayette connection to the USS Bainbridge, the U.S. Navy destroyer involved in patrolling for pirates near Somalia. Melina Gardner of Fayette is a crew member.

There’s also a Morenci connection, although a step removed from the current status of the Bainbridge.

Small world, says Navy officer Stephen Rutkowski of Morenci.

“I was a member of the commissioning crew,” he said. “I was on the ship from June 2004 through June 2007.”

The commissioning crew, he explained, is responsible for putting the ship into service after its construction. Rutkowski describes the effort as massive test of management skills.

“We start from scratch to make sure all the pieces for the ship operate and function,” he said. “Then we take her out of the shipyard and work out the bugs.”

The Bainbridge was commissioned in Florida for a couple months after leaving Bath, Maine, where it was built. After that comes the job of training the crew to operate the many facets of the guided missile destroyer that’s powered by gas turbine engines.

“This is why most crew members remain for several years after commissioning. Those crew members that are attached to the ship at the time of commission are called ‘plank owners’. There are still several plank owners onboard today.”

Rutkowski said he’s been back on board several times since the commissioning and is still in contact with the ship.

He added that area resident Joe Terrell was in Florida during the commissioning and went onboard for a three-hour tour. He later returned for the ceremony when the ship went into service.

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