June 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy's newest towing, salvage and rescue ship will be named Cherokee Nation, the military branch announced Friday.
"It is my privilege to announce that the many Cherokee Nation citizens who've served throughout the years will be remembered with the highest honor a Secretary of the Navy can bestow, the naming of a ship," Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said in a news release. "The future USNS Cherokee Nation will expand our capabilities and form a critical backbone for the strength and readiness of our entire fleet."
Four other ships have been named in honor of the Cherokee Nation: a blockade gunboat during the American Civil War, a steam yacht built in 1903 and commissioned as a patrol ship in the Atlantic during World War I, a boat built in 1891 but commissioned as a tug during World War I and a World War II-era tug
The Cherokee Nation is the federally recognized government of the 360,000 Cherokee citizens over 7,000 square miles in Northeastern Oklahoma.
"The Cherokee Nation is extremely honored that the U.S. Navy is recognizing our tribal nation and the generations of Cherokee men and women who have bravely, and humbly sacrificed for our freedom today," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. "Our Cherokee people have contributed in every major battle and war ever fought in this country, and continue to serve in the Armed Forces in some of the highest rates per ethnicity."
A Cherokee member, Joseph James "Jocko" Clark, was the first Native American to graduate from the Naval Academy and went on to command the USS Suwannee and USS Yorktown during the Battle of Midway in World War II, according to Cherokee Nation in a news release.
All seven of the planned class of ships will be named in honor of prominent Native Americans or Native American tribes.
The future USNS Cherokee Nation, which is designated as T-ATS 7, is the second ship in class. In March, T-ATS 6 was named in honor of the major contributions the Navajo people, who occupy 27,000 acres in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico with a population of roughly 250,000.
The ships serve as open ocean towing vessels, and support salvage operations and submarine rescue missions.
The Cherokee Nation will be built at Gulf Island Shipyards in Houma, La., and is expected to be completed in July 2021, according to the Navy.
The company has been awarded $522.7 million to build the seven ships, including $63.5 million contract option for the design and construction of the ship class signed in 2018. It replaces the current T-ATF 166 and T-ARS 50 Safeguard class ships in service with the U.S. Military Sealift Command called
The company is contracted to build one ship per year through 2025.