HOUSTON (AP) — The Navy's newest combat ship was put into active service following a commissioning ceremony Saturday, named after former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was injured during a 2011 shooting.
Giffords told a crowd at the ceremony in the Texas Gulf Coast city of Galveston that she was honored the 421-foot-long ship will carry her name and the vessel is "strong and tough, just like her crew."
"I thought of you in my darkest days, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States of America ... You make me proud. You make America proud," Giffords said as she stood next to her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, who was in the Navy. Kelly lived in Galveston County when he was stationed at Johnson Space Center in suburban Houston during his NASA service.
Speakers including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said Giffords' strength and courage made her worthy of being the namesake of the ship, the USS Gabrielle Giffords.
"Nothing gives me greater joy and honor than seeing this great ship named for someone whose strength and resilience is a great lesson to us all," Clinton said.
Others who attended the ceremony included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, who served as the ship's sponsor.
The Navy has said it named the ship after Giffords because of the perseverance she showed after the shooting.
Giffords was shot in the head at a meet-and-greet event outside a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011. Six people died and Giffords was among 13 injured. The killer, Jared Loughner, was sentenced to life in prison. Giffords suffers from a language disorder and is partially paralyzed as a result of the shooting.
Giffords helped christen the $475 million ship in 2015. It's the ninth in a series of high-speed vessels designed to navigate in shallow coastal regions known as littoral waters.
It is the 13th Navy ship named after a living person since 1850 and the 16th ship named for a woman.
The ship will be based in San Diego.
"I will never forget this day or the crew of the USS Gabrielle Giffords. Fair winds and following seas," Giffords said.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70