PASCAGOULA, Miss. – A graduate of Gwynn High School is serving in the U.S. Navy as part of a hand-selected crew charged with bringing the Navy’s newest and most advanced amphibious assault ship into service.

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuels) 3rd Class Andre Pearson, from Clinton, Md., is serving aboard the amphibious assault ship America, currently under construction with Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. When construction and sea trials are complete, and the Navy officially accepts the ship from the builder, the ship will be placed into commission and will become USS America. After commissioning, the ship will be homeported in San Diego.

Pearson and the rest of the 900-person crew are slowly bringing the ship to life, overseeing construction, testing new equipment, training on new systems and executing trials at sea. The crew will eventually grow to more than 1,200 Sailors and nearly 1,900 embarked Marines when the ship is at sea. When complete, USS America will be 844 feet long and 106 feet wide and will weigh nearly 45,000 tons. Twin gas turbine engines will push the ship through the water at more than 22 knots.

As one of the Sailors who will commission the ship, Pearson is getting a firsthand look at the improvements the Navy has incorporated into the design of the ship: a more fuel-efficient gas turbine propulsion plant, increased capacity for aviation operations, advanced weapons systems, and sophisticated electronics and communications suites.

As the crew grows and works toward the end goal of joining the fleet in late 2014, Pearson and other America Sailors know they are building a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes.

Pearson said it is an exciting time to be in the Navy and to be helping build a crew and a ship from scratch, which was something he never expected to be doing just a couple years ago.

The 20-year-old Sailor realizes the historical value of what it means to not only be selected to be part of a commissioning crew but to help commission a ship named after his country.

“I’m really excited to be assigned to a ship named America,” said Pearson. “Everyone feels a lot of pride in being here – no matter what your job is on board. It’s a great feeling to know that you we’re part of the original crew helping to bring the ship to life. This is my first ship, and I’m honored to be part of its history.”

Pearson is not only honored to be a part of the America commissioning crew but thankful for the chance to do something he loves.

“I take a lot of pride in what I do,” said Pearson. “Essentially, my job is about making sure that the fuel we have is clean. If we don’t do that, we can do a lot of damage to aircraft.”

“Petty officer Pearson has been a model Sailor since he reported on board America,” said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuels) Allan Thomas, Air Department’s V-4 (aviation fuels division) leading chief petty officer. “He is an exceptionally outstanding individual whose performance, initiative and enthusiasm have been noticed by his superiors and set him apart from his contemporaries. He has a very bright future in the Navy.”