The need for a next-generation research vessel in the NOAA fleet, to replace the 60's era vessels Oceanographer, Discoverer, and Researcher (later renamed Malcom Baldrige), was first recognized in the NOAA Fleet Modernization Program in the early 1990's. The opportunity to acquire a new vessel through an existing contract for two Navy AGOR 24 Class ships was recognized as the best option to meet the needs of the NOAA fleet.
In February 1995, the ship's keel was laid at Halter Marine's Moss Point shipyard in Pascagoula, MS. Construction of the second and third ships in the class, Atlantis and Revelle (to be operated under UNOLS by Woods Hole and Scripps, respectively), had already begun. The lead ship of the class, the Thomas G. Thompson (operated by the University of Washington), had been constructed in 1991. The new ship construction proceeded simultaneously, and continued following the completion of its sister ships.
The new NOAA AGOR 24 was originally intended to be named Researcher, following the tradition of the original NOAA Class I fleet. However, on April 3rd, 1996, the untimely death of Ronald H. Brown, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and an ardent supporter of the NOAA fleet, gave cause to the memorial action of naming the new ship in his memory.
Ronald H. Brown was launched with great fanfare on May 30, 1996 at Halter Marine's Moss Point shipyard in Pascagoula, MS. Sea trials and a builder's drydock period in New Orleans followed. After delivery of the ship to NOAA, two months of further outfitting was completed at NOAA's Atlantic Marine Center in Norfolk, VA, followed by a cruise down to the new homeport of Charleston, SC, for the commissioning ceremony.
NOAA's first newly built oceanographic research vessel in 17 years, Ronald H. Brown was commissioned July 19 in Charleston, S.C., during a ceremony that not only welcomed the vessel into the NOAA fleet, but honored the memory of the late Commerce secretary for whom it was named. Commerce Secretary William M. Daley at the ceremony ordered NOAA Corps RADM John C. Albright, director of the Pacific and Atlantic Marine Centers, to place the Ronald H. Brown in commission. The commissioning ceremony is a maritime tradition dating back 222 years to the beginning of the Revolutionary War. It marks the beginning of a government vessel's active service. The Charleston Air Force Base color guard participated in the ceremony, presenting the colors at the ceremonial site. The Ronald H. Brown's master of ceremonies, CDR Paul Pegnato, ordered the colors to be hoisted and the band to 'sound off'. While the Marine Corps Band from Parris Island Recruit Depot played the National Anthem, Ronald H. Brown crew members raised the American flag, Commerce Secretary's flag and the commissioning pennant. The Ronald H. Brown was then officially placed into government service under the command of NOAA Corps CDR David Peterson, who read his orders and directed the first watch to be set and log entry to be made. In subsequent remarks, Secretary Daley said, "I'm proud to be here today to take part in this ceremony to commission the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown, the most technologically-advanced seagoing platform in America today. The Brown will be a scientific wonder, collecting environmental data that will further our understanding of the interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere and helping us make sound decisions about our lives, our homes and our economy. The benefits derived from the science conducted aboard the Ronald H. Brown will affect the lives of every American.", Daley said.
Keynote speaker Sen. E. F. Hollings, D-S.C.; Mrs. Alma Brown, the late secretary's widow and ship's sponsor; NOAA Administrator D. James Baker; RADM William Stubblefield, director of the Office of NOAA Corps Operations; and Navy General Counsel Stephen Honigman joined Secretary Daley in paying tribute to Ron Brown and celebrating completion of the state-of-the-art national asset that bears his name. "I know that Ron, if he was here today, would be just thrilled with this," Mrs. Brown said. "I know he's watching this and enjoying it." "Secretary Brown had a unique ability to relate to Americans from all walks of life - from all ethnic groups, from all economic backgrounds," said Hollings, who spoke at length about the achievements of his close friend, the late Commerce Secretary. His support in Congress of NOAA's mission and fleet is credited with making construction of Brown's namesake possible. The commissioning ceremony was held at the Ronald H. Brown's home port in Charleston. About 400 guests attended it and the subsequent reception and had an opportunity to tour the ship and visit the NOAA exhibits. Later, the ship also hosted public tours. In addition to its state-of-the-art oceanographic sampling capabilities, the 274-ft. Ronald H. Brown has instrumentation to study the atmosphere, including a Doppler radar for a better understanding of storm dynamics at sea. This combined atmospheric and oceanographic sampling capability makes the ship unique in the world's research fleet. Scientists aboard the vessel will study critical environmental issues across the world's oceans. The Ronald H. Brown's first mission, was to measure the three-dimensional structure of clouds and precipitation in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, a region that has a strong, but not accurately measured, influence on global weather patterns. According to RADM Stubblefield, who commanded the NOAA fleet at the time of the commissioning, "The Brown marks a real milestone in conducting oceanographic and atmospheric research. But what makes the Brown unique is that it goes beyond oceanographic sampling to simultaneous atmospheric sampling as well. This capability opens up possibilities that never existed before for understanding the interactions of the oceans and atmosphere that profoundly affect both global climate and the marine environment."
CDR Peterson said, "The Brown's commissioning marks the beginning of the high point of my career. I am honored to be first to command this remarkable new ship and proud to serve with such an outstanding group of officers and crew."
Commissioning Ceremony Principals
Principals at the formal commissioning ceremony for the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown , are front row from left: RADM John Albright, Director of NOAA's Marine Centers; D. James Baker, NOAA Administrator; Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C.; Alma Brown, widow of the late Secretary; Navy Chief Counsel Steven Honigman; and RADM William Stubblefield, Director of the Office of NOAA Corps Operations. In the rear row are from left: Secretary of Commerce Daley and NOAA CDR David Peterson.
First Log Book entry for Ronald H. Brown
10:20 As directed by the Secretary of Commerce, The Honorable William M. Daley, hoisted the National Ensign at the Flagstaff, the Commissioning Pennant at the Main Truck, and the Union Jack at the Jackstaff, placing R/V Ronald H. Brown into active commissioned service as a United States public vessel, to pursue marine research in accordance with Public Law 373, 80th Congress, as amended. Moored starboard side to north face of Pier Quebec, Charleston, S. C. All mooring lines are doubled fore and aft, with the ship smartly full-dressed topside. Receiving electric power, potable water and telephone service from ashore. Plank owners present for duty: CDR David Peterson, CDR Paul Pegnato, LT Stephen Meador, LT Anne Nimershiem, CME Calvin Hall IV, 1AE James Hutton, 2AE Michael Anderson, 3AE Maureen McGarrity, JEU Robert Wint, O Gordon Gardipe, W Roy Davis, CB Matthew Ofsthus, AB David Owen, AB Patrick Quinanola, AB Lisa Glover, OS Matthew Lynch, GVA Angelo Grant, GVA Reginald Williams, CS Allan Gary, 2C Pablito Santos, ST Jon Shannahoff, LET Lawrence Loewen, LET Stephen Macri. Plank owners on authorized absence: LCDR Frederick Rossmann, GVA James Leverich, 2C Karen Bailey.