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PO’s adoptive ship decommissioned next week

Members of the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce will be just a few of the likely thousands of civilians and U.S. Navy personnel bidding an official goodbye to the USS Camden next week, according to Executive Director Melode Sapp.

The recently retired ship holds a special place in the Chamber’s heart, Sapp said, because it became the first Navy vessel to be adopted by the Chamber in at least a decade.

“We were thrilled,” said Sapp, explaining that the Chamber relished its role in not only planning holiday and “halfway” parties for Camden sailors and their families, but especially in preparing baskets for new parents who were “visited by the stork while the ship was away at sea.”

Sapp said the relationship not only strengthened the ties between the Chamber and the local military, but also gave all the members a “good, warm, fuzzy feeling.”

“It gave us great pleasure to provide support, and made us civilians feel that we were at least doing something, however little it might have been,” she said, explaining that along with baskets for new parents, the Chamber also provided holiday baskets for families with particularly tight budgets.

Sapp said she was also proud that the Chamber’s relationship with the Camden later broadened to include local members of the Washington National Guard.

“It helped break down the barriers between different functions and branches of the military,” she said.

The Camden — affectionately known as the “Powerful Pachyderm of Pacific Fleet” — made its final trip home to Bremerton last month after a seven-month global combat deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and the global war on terrorism, according to a Navy press release.

The ship’s official decommission next Thursday at Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton will end 38 years of service providing logistic support to combat ships such as fuel, ammunition, food and mail.

Sapp said although the Camden is grounded, the Chamber in anxious to revive its role as adoptive “parents” to another ship, even if it is not the entire ship.

“The Navy’s public affairs office is looking at dividing the USS Stennis into adoptable portions, so we’re looking forward to that,” she said. “We’re a small community, so there’s no way we can adopt a ship the size of the Stennis and do it justice, but if we had a small portion we could.”

But for now, Sapp said she was looking forward to the party next week, though she did have a word of advice to those who might be attending their first decommissioning.

“Bring some Kleenex, because it can be sad,” she said. “It really is kind of like a funeral for a ship.”

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