May 14 (UPI) -- The keel for the USNS John Lewis, the Navy's first in class replenishment oiler, was ceremonially laid at the shipyard of General Dynamics-National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego.
The ship's namesake, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, and the ship's sponsor, actress Alfre Woodard, etched their initials into the keel plate Monday during a ceremony. The keel laying is the ceremonial recognition of the start of a ship's construction with the joining together of a ship's modular components.
The company began construction of ship on Sept. 20, 2018, with completion scheduled for November 2020.
The contracted cost of the ship is $640.2 million, according to the Navy.
Woodard and Lewis, dressed in protective equipment, took torches in hand and affixed their initials permanently to the ship's keel.
"I tried to promise myself that I would not be overcome, but this is too much," Lewis, 71, said at the ceremony. "We need great ships, like this one, to carry our men and women in our continued work for peace, because we are one world."
Lewis, who has represented Georgia in Congress as a Democratic since 1987, is a civil rights leader and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.
Then-Secretary of the Navy Raymond E. Mabus Jr. in 2016 announced that T-AO-205 would be named for Lewis.
"We're honored to have Representative Lewis and Ms. Woodard with us today as we lay the foundation for recapitalizing our nation's critical fuel-replenishment-at-sea capabilities," said Mike Kosar, Support Ships, Boats and Craft program manager with Program Executive Office Ships. "These ships are steadfast, reliable and allow our warships to defend our freedoms for which Representative Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting."
Woodard told the guests "as a leader, John Lewis is a bright light in the service of our country. May this ship be a beacon in times of darkness."
After construction and christening, the ship will go through tests and inspections before joining the Military Sealift Command fleet of more than 120 ships.
The John Lewis-class ships will recapitalize the current T-AO 187-class fleet replenishment oilers. In all, 20 perspective ships will be in the Lewis-class as part of the Navy's Combat Logistics Force.