A delegation from North Dakota is making plans to go to Rhode Island in a few days for the first ceremony for the Virginia-class nuclear submarine being built that will carry the state's name USS North Dakota.
On Friday, May 11, the North Dakota group will attend the traditional Navy keel authentication ceremony for the submarine.
"Katie Fowler, our ship's sponsor, will sign her initials on a section of the ship's hull and a welder will weld her initials into the hull of the ship so she will be a part of it for its full 33 years of service life expectancy," said Bob Wefald, Bismarck, a Navy veteran formerly of Minot and chair of the USS North Dakota Committee.
During a tour of the General Dynamics’ boat manufacturing plant in Quonset Point, R.I., Katie Fowler, right, Pre-Commissioning Unit-North Dakota sponsor, touches a section of bulkhead that will be installed in the submarine to carry the name USS North Dakota.
Fowler's husband is retired Navy Vice Adm. Jeff Fowler, a Bismarck native.
The N.D. delegation planning to go to the ceremony will include Wefald and his wife, Susan Wefald, committee vice chairman Bill Butcher, formerly of Minot, Kelvin Hulett and Dot Frank from the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce and several from New England.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Lt. Cmdr. Jeremiah Minner, executive officer of the Pre-Commissioning Unit-North Dakota (SSN-784) will be speaking in Fargo to the North Dakota Committee for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and also at a Navy League dinner and USS North Dakota Committee luncheon.
Wefald, who spoke at a recent meeting of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee, said the submarine is being built at different locations. He said probably about 60 to 70 percent of the steel now is in place. General Dynamics Electric Boat is the contractor.
A $2.6 billion project, the submarine is scheduled to be ready for the Navy in 2014.
"In 2013, the ship will be fully assembled and we'll have a christening event," he said.
A homeport will be selected for the commissioning, an event a number of North Dakotans are expected to attend.
"We're going to have a big party for the commissioning in 2014," Wefald said.
When the submarine sails, he said, "it will sail for 33 years without ever refueling."
"It's going to have 120 enlisted people and about 15 officers. It will be 377 feet long and 34 feet in diameter.
"It's really an incredible deal for our state and long, long work to get this ship named for our state, but that happened in June of 2008 and we're really excited about it," Wefald said.
Former North Dakota senator Byron Dorgan led the effort for the Navy to name a new USS North Dakota. According to a news release that his office issued in 2009, Dorgan invited Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., now former representative Earl Pomeroy and other distinguished North Dakotans to form the USS North Dakota Committee. Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who was born in Scranton, was convinced to be honorary chairman. In July 2008, the effort paid off.
Before that, the first ship of the U.S. Navy named in honor of North Dakota was a Delaware-class battleship that was in service from 1910 to 1923.
Cmdr. Douglas V. Gordon, the officer in charge of the now being built submarine, and his wife, Christine, visited North Dakota in January.
Minot native Timothy Preabt, chief of the boat assigned to the Pre-Commissioning Unit North Dakota, was in N.D. in October for a namesake visit to bring awareness to the new submarine. Preabt is the highest ranking enlisted member of the crew.
"We want to keep a working relationship with this ship throughout its full 33 years," Wefald said.