Building the national security cutter: A sponsor’s role

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Being the spouse of an ‘ancient mariner’ provides a unique perspective into the world of Coast Guard cutters and life at sea.

However, Linda Kapral Papp, wife of retired Adm. Bob Papp, is getting a different view of the cutter fleet through her new role: sponsor of the Coast Guard’s fourth National Security Cutter, Hamilton.

For nearly 40 years, Papp stood by her husband through his distinguished service that eventually led him to the role of the 24th Commandant of the Coast Guard. Throughout those years, she witnessed and stood by her husband during the building, christening and commissioning of multiple Coast Guard cutters.

Papp thought that maybe, as the wife of a Coast Guard ancient mariner, one day she could receive the honor of being selected as a sponsor.

“I often asked [my husband] ‘Do you think one day I’ll ever have a chance to do that?’” said Papp.

A phone call from retired Vice Adm. John Currier, 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard, answered that very question.

“I was thrilled,” remembers Papp. “I’d waited so many years and thought it would never happen – it really caught me off guard.”

For Papp, the one thing more significant than being selected to be a sponsor was the cutter for which she was selected.

“To have it be Hamilton, to me, that was the premier NSC,” said Papp.

Hamilton, which bears the name of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton under whom the Revenue Cutter Service was first established, has been a namesake for Coast Guard cutters for decades.

Over the past three years, Hamilton has morphed from a pile of steel to one of the most capable ships in the Coast Guard fleet. And Papp has been by its side every step of the way.

Ship’s sponsor Linda Kapral Papp etches her initials into a placard at a keel-laying ceremony. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Ship’s sponsor Linda Kapral Papp etches her initials into a placard at a keel-laying ceremony. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

In August 2012, Papp stood by the cutter as it underwent it’s first milestone towards becoming a Coast Guard cutter – a traditional keel-laying ceremony in which she was able to etch her initials into a placard eventually became part of the ship’s hull.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Papp said. “The people down at the shipyard have been terrific – they’ve kept me informed, they’ll send me pictures as the ship is progressing. It’s just been a lot of fun.”

For Papp, and the cutter, the next major milestone was the christening, which occurred more than one year after the keel laying ceremony in October 2013.

During the christening ceremony, the ship’s sponsor breaks a bottle of champagne over the hull of the new ship. According to maritime superstition, if the bottle doesn’t break, it’s usually a sign of bad luck for the ship and her crew.

“I was nervous,” she said. “Nothing worried me like breaking that bottle.”

Papp had no trouble breaking the bottle, however, and looked forward to the final milestone – commissioning.

Linda Kapral Papp, wife of Retired Adm. Bob Papp, christens the newest Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter, Hamilton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Linda Kapral Papp, wife of Retired Adm. Bob Papp, christens the newest Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter, Hamilton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

And right now, Papp is preparing for the ceremony, which will officially commission Hamilton into the fleet and award her the coveted title of Coast Guard cutter.

“I’m working on the speech, we’re having the gift for the ship made right now, and I’m working with the Navy League for the gift for the crew,” said Papp.

Papp isn’t aware of any traditions or customs that usually take place at a commissioning ceremony, but that doesn’t bother her. She just wants the experience to be unique to her.

“If I start hearing too much, then it starts to be like someone else’s,” she said.

In three years, Hamilton went from a nearly 100-ton pile of steel to a fully operational Coast Guard cutter. In just one month, Papp will stand by the ship during the final milestone on its journey.

And the one thing that has been on Papp’s mind since the initial call is family. Families have been at the forefront of Papp’s contributions to the service over the years, and those contributions will continue to be felt by Hamilton crews for years to come.

“The role of a sponsor, when you are given this wonderful thing, you take that and you move it forward,” said Papp. “We always talked about families – well the ship is a family.”

Looking forward, Papp doesn’t see her role as Hamilton’s sponsor ending with the Dec. 6 commissioning ceremony.

“A sponsor isn’t a one day thing, it’s a forever thing,” said Papp.

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