When the U.S. Navy’s newest amphibious assault ship, USS America, is commissioned today during Fleet Week in San Francisco, Turlock native and U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Juliana Valladares will be among the celebrants.
Valladares has been serving on the new vessel since it made its maiden voyage to South America on the “America visits the Americas” tour. During the transit, the ship and crew traveled 15,300 miles, made port visits to Colombia, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Brazil, and Peru.
USS America is the first ship of its kind for the Navy. Dubbed the next-generation “big-deck” America will serve as the flagship for military expeditions and is optimized for aviation, capable of supporting current and future aircraft. America's crew consists of 1,100 Sailors and can embark more than 1,500 Marines. The ship is 844 feet in length and has a displacement of approximately 45,000 tons. It is the fourth ship to bear the nation’s name. The America crew trained for nearly two years to take possession of the $2.4 billion ship.
Once commissioned, the USS America will conduct operations and training within the 3rd Fleet Area of Responsibility. The U.S. 3rd Fleet leads naval forces in the Eastern Pacific from the West Coast of North America to the international date line.
“It is a privilege as well as an honor to serve aboard the USS America due to the historical background,” Valladares said. “It is also an honor to serve with the Navy and other Marines from the East Coast.”
Valladares is currently serving as a combat cargo specialist aboard the ship, which as she describes is a lot of “helping Marines and personnel on and off of the birds (helicopters) and helping unload gear.”
Valladares has been a Marine for five years and she says the idea of serving was one that had been stirring in her for quite some time.
“I always had the drive to join the military at a very young age,” said the 24-year-old. “When I went to college is when I made up my mind and joined in the heat of the moment when I was 19 years old. If I am given the opportunity, I would be a lifer. I would like to stay in for 20 years.”
And after that?
“I want to go back and help with the community,” Valladares said. “I want to work with kids. I want to talk with them to show them there are different routes instead of drugs and gangs. There are different routes.”