Staten Island Ferry a welcome arrival

When thousands of New Yorkers travel to and fro between Manhattan and Staten Island in the years ahead, they won’t be thinking about Port St. Joe.

But they’ll be standing on metal that was fashioned here.

In a powerful sign of the resurgence of industry at the Port of Port. Joe, the first of three Staten Island Ferries to be completed here arrived last week to the Eastern Shipbuilding facility.

The 320-foot SSG Michael H. Ollis, named for a 24-year-old Army infantryman from that New York City borough killed in Afghanistan, pulled in from Allenton, where the construction was started, into the former bulkhead at the old mill site.

The ferry will be here about six months, and will soon give way to two more from Eastern Shipbuilding’s Allenton facility, about 18 miles west on the east side of Panama City.

This project has been in the works for years and got a big boost about four or five years ago, when state legislators Sens. George Gainer and Bill Montford worked to secure $6 million in state appropriation monies for the shipyard.

In partnership with an investment by the D'Isernia family that owns and operates Eastern Shipbuilding, and with support of a land lease from The St. Joe Company worked out by its CEO Jorge Gonzalez, Gulf County commissioners, administrators and business leaders have been working hard to bring the working site to fruition.

But Hurricane Michael and the COVID-19 pandemic added to delays. “It backed everything up a couple years,” said Jim McKnight, director of the county’s Economic Development Coalition. “It was always intended. If not for the hurricane would have happened a couple years ago.”

He told WMBB that new jobs are being brought to the area, with more to come.

“It’s a big spur to our economy,” McKnight said. “The spinoff will be other things. There will be other businesses coming because the port here has become active again, things are going on.”

In addition to the ferries, Eastern has a a contract to construct cutters for the Coast Guard.

News of the ferry’s arrival was heard as far as Franklin County and beyond, where county commissioners said they were excited that the Gulf County port could mean jobs for those in Franklin County, whose residents were for many years a steady supply of workers for the paper mill.

The ferry’s namesake is a soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2013 shielding a Polish soldier from a suicide bomber during an assault on their base that involved grenades, mortars, rockets and a 3,000-pound bomb.

According to an account by Joe Gould in the Military Times, Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, of the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), stepped into the path of an unnamed Polish officer, blocking him from the suicide vest of an insurgent who had raided Forward Operating Base Ghazni.

The 24-year-old was later nominated for a Silver Star, the third highest military decoration for valor.

“Unfortunately, we lost a great American there from 10th Mountain Division in that attack, but the defenders did extraordinarily well,” said Army Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the No. 2 commander for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The attack began when a car bomb breached the base’s eastern perimeter wall, allowing 10 insurgents in suicide vests to infiltrate the compound.

The massive blast from the car bomb reverberated across the post, kicking off an assault from the east, west and north sides, as insurgents rained mortar shells, shoulder-fired rockets and hand grenades from outside the post, according to Army accounts in the article.

Ollis — who first accounted for his men in a bunker — raced toward the bomb blast’s massive white smoke plume and the sound of gunfire. He  linked up with a Polish officer he did not know and then with a team of special forces soldiers who killed nine of the insurgents wearing suicide vests.

A 10th emerged from behind some other containers near the Polish officer and Ollis, who was the closer of the two.

“As Staff Sgt. Ollis stepped toward the insurgent, he stepped in front of the Polish officer, thereby blocking him,” when the insurgent’s vest detonated, according to the Army’s account.

Ollis’ comrades told Army Times they were not surprised that Ollis, who joined the Army in 2006 and had previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, died saving the life of another soldier.

They praised Ollis as courageous and diligent, and said he felt a genuine sense of responsibility for keeping his soldiers safe.

“That was the way he was brought up, and I think it would make everybody proud to know that he went out there to take the fight to the enemy,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tim Sireno, who served with Ollis in Afghanistan in 2010. He still protected his men and was leading from the front. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

This article originally appeared on The Star: Staten Island Ferry a welcome arrival

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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