Sailors from the Navy ship USS Mesa Verde will spend a week beginning Monday visiting their namesake national park in Montezuma County.
The USS Mesa Verde, a ship designed for transporting amphibious military vehicles, was named after Mesa Verde National Park when it christened in 2005. It was commissioned in 2007.
According to a news release from the Naval Surface Force, seven members of its crew will visit the park from Tuesday through Sunday as part of an effort to “build unity with park leaders and supporters.”
During their visit, they will meet with Native American tribal leaders, perform maintenance on the park’s Petroglyph Trail and meet with their ship’s sponsor, Linda Campbell, and her husband, former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse-Campbell. According to the ship’s webpage, Linda Campbell christened the ship in Mississippi, and the ceremony included a Native American blessing provided by Peter Pino, tribal administrator of Pueblo Zia.
This will be the second year the ship has sent sailors to the park, after their visit in 2016 for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. This year, the visit was designed to coincide with the park’s annual Native American tribal consultation on Wednesday and Thursday. During the consultation representatives from 24 tribes with an ancestral connection to Mesa Verde ruins will offer their perspective on caring for the historic sites.
Lt. Andrew Brod, the ship’s chaplain and one of the trip’s organizers, said he wants to give the sailors a glimpse of the culture and history behind their ship’s name.
“We will carry the values of the park, and those 24 tribes that will be represented there, back to the ship,” he said.
Dan Puleio, a public affairs agent for the Navy Talent Acquisition Group in Denver, said many Navy ships try to maintain a connection with their namesakes, whether cities, individuals or national parks.
“They want to reach out and develop a relationship with their namesake communities – we call them ‘namesake relationships,’” he said.
The group traveling to Montezuma County is made up of three ship’s officers, including Brod, as well as the four Sailors of the Year, crew members who are being honored for outstanding service in their ranks.
In addition to meeting with tribal leaders during the consultation, the group will get a special tour of the park and work on the Petroglyph Trail as part of the Navy’s customary “community outreach projects” at namesake sites. Later in the week, they will meet with Campbell and Nighthorse-Campbell.
On Friday, the group will finish its week in Colorado by heading to Pueblo to give a presentation to a class of fourth-graders and visit the Center for Native American Values.
In a news release, the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Max Clark, called the trip another way for the crew to serve the American people.
“All across the globe, while conducting operations to defend our national interests and freedoms, we’ve proudly carried the name and spirit of Mesa Verde National Park with us,” he said. “So for us to return to the place of our ship’s namesake, serve the local communities and strengthen our ties with those that work and live here, this truly brings our mission full circle.”
Brod said the USS Mesa Verde’s leadership over the past few years has been trying to strengthen its ties to the national park. He said he hopes to continue that effort by bringing crew members to visit “annually or every other year” in the future.