Navy's Newest Warship Named for Fierce Marine Corps Campaign in Afghanistan

The USS America (LHA 6) sails into formation during Exercise Iron Fist in Sasebo Japan.
The forward-deployed amphibious assault carrier, USS America (LHA 6), sails into formation during Exercise Iron Fist in Sasebo Japan, March 7, 2024. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas B. Contant/U.S. Navy photo)

The top leader of the Navy announced Thursday that the service's future amphibious ship, a landing helicopter assault vessel, will be named the USS Helmand Province after an intense, yearslong campaign that characterized some of the deadliest fighting during the war in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the Modern Day Marine exposition in Washington, D.C., Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro described the name for the new America-class ship as "in keeping with naval tradition of naming our Navy's amphibious assault ships after U.S. Marine Corps battles."

"I am honored to announce today that the future LHA-10 will be named the USS Helmand Province, recognizing the bravery and sacrifices of our Marines and our sailors who fought for almost 20 years in the mountains of Afghanistan," Del Toro said.

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Helmand province, situated in southern Afghanistan and long considered a Taliban stronghold by the U.S.-led coalition that invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, was the focus of a major military campaign led by roughly 10,000 British troops and 20,000 U.S. Marines from 2009 to 2014, many of whom arrived during President Barack Obama's 2010 troop surge into the country.

More than 350 Marines were killed during those five years of fierce combat in Helmand, with "thousands" more wounded, according to a 2014 Defense Department press release marking the end of the campaign there. In particular, 29 Marines and Navy corpsmen assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, were killed during their seven-month tour in Helmand's Sangin district, establishing it as one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of the conflict.

In his first major public speaking engagement since returning to duty in March following a cardiac incident in late October, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith -- who fought in Helmand in 2011 as the commander of Regimental Combat Team 8 -- told the assembled audience at Modern Day Marine that the province "holds a unique place in the hearts of this generation of Marines."

"From 2009 to 2014, this region was the center of efforts to give stability and security to a troubled land," Smith said. "Helmand province, as many of you know … was not just any theater of war. It was the heart of the opium trade, a Taliban stronghold, and the terrain is rugged and formidable as any. And yet, our Marines and sailors and allies and partners showed what it means to be the tip of the spear."

Smith cited the heroism and valor of several Marines in Helmand to prove his point: Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, who received the Medal of Honor for jumping on a grenade to shield his fellow Marines from the blast; Sgt. Christopher Farias, who received the Navy Cross for disregarding his own injuries during an ambush and exposing himself to enemy fire to repel the assault and cover the evacuation of other casualties; and Cpl. Clifford Wooldridge, who received the Navy Cross and exemplified "undaunted courage under fire" in the face of a Taliban ambush.

Wooldridge "led his fire team to flank the enemy, killing several Taliban fighters at close range, at one point grabbing an enemy fighter's own weapon and beating him to death with it," Smith said.

"That's what Marines do," he said as the crowd, which was made up of current and former Marines, whooped and called out "oo-rah."

The USS Helmand Province will be the second Navy warship named for a Marine Corps campaign from the Global War on Terror. In 2022, Del Toro announced that the future LHA-9 would be called the USS Fallujah in tribute to the First and Second Battles of Fallujah in 2004 during the Iraq War, where Marines experienced their most grueling urban combat since the Vietnam War.

Trish Smith, the commandant's wife, will serve as the sponsor of the ship, Del Toro said.

"A ship sponsor plays a critical role throughout the life of a warship, serving as the bond between the ship, her crew and the nation that they serve," he said. "And I have no doubt that Trish will serve admirably in this role, supporting the Marines and sailors of USS Helmand Province, wherever they may sail around the globe."

Last year, the Navy contracted shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries for $130 million to build the ship, USNI News first reported. It will be the third Flight II America-class amphibious assault ship after the Fallujah and the USS Bougainville, the latter of which was christened in December.

Like the rest of Afghanistan, Helmand province has been controlled by the Taliban since the U.S. military withdrawal from the country in 2021.

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