BISMARCK, N.D. — The USS North Dakota nuclear attack submarine — the first military vessel in almost a century to carry the state’s name — will be christened on the same day North Dakota celebrates its 124th birthday, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Monday.
The ceremony will be held on Nov. 2 in Groton, Conn. North Dakota entered the Union on Nov. 2, 1889.
The $2.6 billion, 377-foot Virginia-class submarine will have 120 sailors and 14 officers. It’s designed to launch missiles, carry commando teams and perform reconnaissance missions.
North Dakota officials lobbied the military to name a new ship after the state for more than a decade until the Navy eventually agreed in 2008. Chief among those longtime advocates is Navy veteran Robert Wefald, a retired North Dakota district judge and former state attorney general.
Wefald said dozens of North Dakotans, including the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Jack Dalrymple, are expected to attend the ceremony, which marks the end of the shipbuilding process and officially launches the submarine and formalizes its name.
“We hope to have about 100 people from North Dakota there,” Wefald said. “This is a big deal.”
The ship’s sponsor, Katie Fowler, will bestow the name while smashing a bottle against the bow of the submarine. Fowler is the wife of retired Vice Adm. Jeff Fowler, a Bismarck native.
Wefald said the nuclear submarine is expected to be in service for 33 years and can operate the entire time without the need to refuel. The military has said the submarine will be able to dive to depths of 800 feet and cruise at about 30 mph.
Master Chief Petty Officer Tim Preabt, a graduate of Mandan High School, is the only sailor from North Dakota assigned to the submarine, Wefald said. Preabt is the senior enlisted sailor on the submarine.
Dot Frank, who chairs the USS North Dakota, said several sailors from the submarine have been brought to North Dakota over the past two years to experience the state. The sailors have done everything from ice fishing to touring North Dakota’s booming oil patch.
“The idea is for them to find out what their namesake state is all about,” Frank said. “They will be acting as kind of spokespeople who have experienced what makes North Dakota, North Dakota.”
Wefald said the submarine will undergo sea trials following the christening. A formal commissioning ceremony is slated for May 31, 2014.
The last ship to bear North Dakota’s name was a coal-fired, steam-powered battleship built in 1910. It was decommissioned in 1923, and sold for scrap in 1931.