Blessing of the fleet: U.S. Army Corps vessels begin mission

Published 10:04 am Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gwen Harris and her family sat in a pickup in the shade of the Vicksburg floodwall at City Front and looked out on the Yazoo Diversion Canal, waiting for the parade of vessels to pass by.

Harris’ son, Terrence Mixon, was on one of those vessels, part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mat Sinking Unit fleet, which left Monday to begin work on the Corps’ bank stabilization season.

The parade of vessels was part of a blessing of the fleet, an annual ceremony with its roots going back to medieval times, to bless the fleet of towboats and equipment for a safe deployment.

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“This is my first time to watch the blessing,” Harris said. “This is his first trip with the mat sinking unit.”

“I really didn’t want him to go,” Mixon’s wife, Felicia said, “We’ve got a newborn child (6-month-old daughter Rayleigh).” She said Mixon will be gone 30 days and return home for a week before rejoining the unit to help complete its mission .

“We both cried a lot this morning,” Harris said.

The Mat Sinking unit places articulated concrete mats along the Mississippi River to control erosion as part of the Corps’ duty to maintain navigation on the river and other inland waterways.

When it heads out on its seasonal mission, it is accompanied by a fleet of support vessels that provide housing for the workers and other services needed for the project.

Each vessel received an individual blessing as it passed the Corps’ inspection barge, which served as the platform for people viewing the vessels and the ministers: Corps chaplain Col. Mitchell Lewis, the Rev. Sam Godfrey, rector of Christ Episcopal Church and the Rev. P.J. Curley, pastor of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, who took turns blessing the boats as they passed.

“Over the years, nations have depended upon professional fleets to maintain and protect their waterways,” said Corps Vicksburg District Commander Col. Michael DeRosier. “Our fleet is going out to maintain a waterway that is vital to the U.S. economy and has an impact to economies around the globe.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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