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Metro Detroiter proudly serves aboard USS Detroit

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Detroit — Since its arrival late last week, the USS Detroit has drawn thousands of people from around the region to the Detroit’s Riverwalk — all with their own reasons for making the trip.

There are the self-proclaimed “boat nerds,” who love anything and everything about ships on the Great Lakes. Then there are the retired military personnel, eager to see the U.S. Navy’s newest and fastest combat vessel. Others came out of a sense of patriotism, taking the opportunity to show support for American military personnel.

Robin Harkless came down because, well, she’s mom.

Electrician's mate Matthew Harkless of Pontiac stands near the flight deck of the USS Detroit on Thursday.

Her son, Pontiac native Matthew Harkless, is an electrician’s mate assigned to the USS Detroit. And this week — orchestrated to celebrate the ship’s commissioning in its namesake city — is something of a homecoming for the family.

“I’m very proud of my son,” Robin said of her 26-year-old, who has been away from the area for most of the last few years. Based in San Diego, Matthew Harkless and fellow crew members have spent recent months in Marinette, Wisconsin, where the USS Detroit was built.

It’s a proud time for the whole clan which has deep ties to the Navy and its traditions. Matthew’s father served aboard the USS San Juan, and his maternal grandfather was in the Navy.

“At least every generation in our family, one or two people have been in the military, in one way or another,” Matthew said. His own service began after graduating form Rochester High School in 2008, where an interest in robotics may have led him down the electrician’s path.

Robin Harkless of Waterford Township waits for her son who serves aboard the USS Detroit.

As the local guy on-board, Harkless has been elevated this week to share his expertise on where crew members should go for food and fun in their downtime. But he also sees it as an opportunity to share his pride and correct many outside assumptions about Detroit.

“I want the crew to see that Detroit is not what everybody says it is,” he said. “My proudest moment is to have them go on the town and come back and say ‘Man, it was amazing. I had a great time.’ And I’ll say, ‘I told you!’

“This is not the Detroit that everyone says it is. Detroit is nothing like what it used to be.”'

The USS Detroit’s top officer, Cmdr. Michael Desmond, said he has never been to Detroit prior to this week but has enjoyed every moment of the experience so far. He hoped the crew would get a chance to see “how great this city is.”

Tour the USS Detroit - A 360-degree experience

Harkless has come back to the area a few times in recent years to assist in public relations efforts ahead of the USS Detroit’s completion. In front of local media Thursday, he appeared at ease.

It may be because he’s been in front of bigger crowds. In August 2015, he brought out the game ball before a Tigers game at Comerica Park.

The USS Detroit commissioning ceremony will take place at 11 a.m Saturday. All of the 4,000 tickets for the event have been sold.

Infographic: The latest USS Detroit

On Monday, the ship’s tour will continue with a short cruise across the Detroit River, where it will stop briefly in Windsor. It’s ultimate destination on this journey will be the ship’s new home base in Florida.

Desmond said it will likely be a year of further weapons testing and preparation before the Detroit takes on its first assignment.

JLynch@detroitnews.com

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