By Jueseppi B.
First Lady, Sailors Celebrate PCU Illinois‘ Keel Laying
By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/EXW) Jason J. Perry, Submarine Group 2 Public Affairs
NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (NNS) — First Lady Michelle Obama‘s initials were welded onto a metal plate as Sailors from Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Illinois (SSN 786) looked on during a keel-laying ceremony for the new Virginia-class submarine, June 2.
Obama joined Navy leaders, shipyard personnel and crew families in celebrating the ongoing construction of the Navy’s 13th Virginia-class submarine during an event at the Quonset Point facility for General Dynamics Electric Boat.
Three-quarters of the ship’s construction is complete, said Adm. John Richardson, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program director.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus also participated in the event and served as the keynote speaker.
“This vessel whose keel we lay today will be the most advanced ship in the world, its technology absolutely unmatched,” said Mabus.
Obama was named, by Mabus, as the ship’s sponsor. The metal plate with the First Lady’s initials will later be mounted on the submarine, in keeping with Navy tradition.
“I am honored and humbled to be putting my initials to this new submarine with an exceptional crew like this one,” said Obama.
“I am here today, not just as a representative of my family but, as a representative of a grateful nation,” Obama continued. “I am going to do my very best to honor your service by being a really good sponsor.”
Illinois will become the Navy’s second vessel to bear the name of the First Lady’s home state once commissioned.
The pre-commissioning unit currently includes a crew of more than 100 Sailors, with others scheduled to arrive through the summer. By August, leaders expect the crew to reach its full strength of about 140 officers and enlisted personnel.
The vessel presently has three crew members from the nation’s 21st state, including Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Robert Schmitz of Fayetteville, Ill., who joined the Navy 12 years ago. Schmitz said Midwestern values are essential as a submariner.
“Honesty and a strong work ethic are vital to being successful on a submarine,” said Schmitz.
Mokena, Ill., native Electronics Technician 2nd Class Scott Wiscons reflected on the close bond he shares with fellow crew members.
“My family and friends back home have a similar sort of humor to the Navy – tough love and a little teasing. But deep down we truly care about one another. The spirit of camaraderie is very strong,” said Wiscons.
As the crew trains ashore, construction personnel from both Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia will continue to assemble the $2.7 billion vessel.
Once complete, the submarine will be equipped to conduct covert surveillance, support special forces, and track other ships and submarines.
Illinois will measure 377 feet in length, displace 7,835 tons while submerged, and be able to operate at speeds greater than 25 knots (28 mph).
“The keel-laying ceremony is an important step in the process,” said Wiscons. “The Navy has always valued tradition and ceremony, and the ceremony symbolizes an important step in the boat’s life.”
Remarks by the First Lady at the Keel Laying Ceremony for the PCU ILLINOIS
General Dynamics Electric Boat Shipyard
Quonset Point, Rhode Island
2:24 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Good afternoon. Wow. All right, can I just break with protocol and say, this is really cool. (Laughter.) I mean, come on. This is so nice. (Applause.)
I want to start by thanking Secretary Mabus for that very kind introduction, but more importantly, for his tremendous leadership for our country for so many years. I also want to recognize Governor Chaffee, Governor Malloy, Senators Reed and Whitehouse, and all of the members of Congress and the elected officials that we have with us today, and all of the distinguished guests and military leaders who serve our country so bravely every single day.
Now, I have been a sponsor for a Coast Guard cutter before, but I’ve heard that working with submariners is a whole different ballgame. Is that true? So I am beyond excited, and I am truly honored. And I couldn’t be more proud that I have my daughters, Malia and Sasha, who join me to serve as maids of honor for this vessel. They are not here today because they had tests to take. That’s no indication of their commitment going forward, but today they had history and something else. But they send their love, and they are truly excited by the honor. But know that you have three really solid Chicago girls that are very excited to support this vessel.
And we understand what a fine submarine the ILLINOIS will be. And it has been fascinating for me to learn more about all that goes into building a submarine -– from laying the keel, to the christening, to the commissioning. It is truly a privilege to be part of this very unique process. It is something that I will take away as one of the extraordinary experiences that I’ve had in my entire life.
So I want to thank everyone from General Dynamics Electric Boat for hosting us here today, for all the work that they’re doing, along with the folks from Newport News Shipbuilding to build this submarine. And I especially want to, again, join in thanking all of the outstanding folks who work to make these submarines happen — all of the welders, the machinists, the metalworkers, the electricians. I know there are so many more. I got to see some of you guys earlier — some of you guys and gals, because we got some strong women on the team, as well. But thank you for everything that you do, for being part of this effort. I’ve heard that you all are some of the most skilled shipbuilders we have around, so I’m confident that this is going to be an outstanding vessel.
And it takes a lot to make it happen. I know that in the coming months, you all will be working around the clock. You’re going to be pouring your heart and soul into this vessel, you’ll be pulling all-night shifts — I hear you probably have already done a few of those already — and you’ll be creating one of the finest, most state-of-the-art submarines we have ever seen. And as you all are building this sub, the sailors here will be working alongside you to build a top-notch crew to bring her to life. So I want to just take a moment to give a round of applause to the crew of the ILLINOIS. (Applause.)
Now, I have learned that they don’t pick just anybody to be a part of a Pre-Comm crew. That’s true, right? You guys are pretty special. These jobs aren’t easy. They demand an intense sense of mission and discipline, as well as organizational skills, critical thinking, and the ability to perform under pressure. So, again, I am honored and humbled to be putting my initials into this submarine with an exceptional crew like this one.
And as we gather here for this keel laying ceremony, it’s important to remind ourselves why we’re building this new submarine now. Yes, our war in Iraq is over. Our war in Afghanistan will be over by the end of the year. And as we saw this weekend, after nearly five years of captivity, we will welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
But you all know that the work of keeping our country safe and secure will never be over. And our Navy is a daily testament to that truth.
No matter what’s going on in the world –- whether we’re at war or at peace, whether it’s day or night — the Navy is always out there, watching out for our nation. At any given time, tens of thousands of sailors like all of you are out to sea on behalf of our country, including nearly 4,000 in submarines. You’re gathering crucial intelligence and taking on some of our most dangerous missions, often providing the quickest response to emerging threats around the globe. And by keeping the seas safe and free for all nations, you’re fueling the engine of our global economy as well.
In fact, 90 percent of our goods worldwide are carried by water. And that cargo literally puts food on the table for millions of American families every single day. So in a very real way, our nation depends on the Navy’s constant forward presence all around the world.
But I know that folks aren’t always aware of the kind of sacrifices you all are making. Because even when we’re at war, and we hear about boots on the ground, the image that comes to mind is usually men and women on combat patrols, or riding in Humvees, or parachuting into danger in the dead of night. We often don’t hear about folks like you deployed at sea, hundreds of feet below the waves. So we have no idea that for months at a time, you don’t see the sun or breathe fresh air. We have no idea that you all go for weeks with no phone calls, no texts, no Skype sessions with your kids.
And that brings me to your families. For a long time, I was one of those Americans who didn’t really know much about the service and sacrifice of military families like yours –- the emotional toll of long and multiple deployments, the spouses putting their careers on hold, the kids starting up in a new school every couple of years, having to make new friends and readjust.
But even though you don’t always get the recognition you deserve, our Navy and our Navy families always keep moving forward — always — doing the hard work of protecting our freedom. As one Navy spouse told me a few weeks ago, she said “You just keep marching. You just keep marching.” So it is no wonder that you all are known as the “silent service.”
But I want you to know that every day, your service speaks volumes. And one of my most important roles as First Lady is to make sure people know that. You all are the reason why, three years ago, Jill Biden and I started Joining Forces — because we wanted to make sure to honor and support servicemembers, veterans, and military families like yours. Absolutely. (Applause.) It has truly been one of my greatest privileges, getting to know these families. And I just want you to know that we’re going to keep serving and supporting you in the years ahead, long after the wars are over.
So in many ways, this submarine represents not only a new vessel for our Navy, but a new chapter for our country. In the years ahead, we may not have brigades deployed to outposts in the middle of a desert, but no matter what, we will have sailors like all of you looking out for us around the globe.
You’re the sailors who step forward for our country when others step back. You’re the sailors willing to go to the depths of the ocean to protect all of our freedoms. That is the kind of service that inspires me, it inspires my husband, and I know it inspires millions of Americans in this country.
So I’m here today not just as a representative of my family, but as a representative of a grateful nation. And I’m going to do my best to honor your service by being a really good sponsor, okay? I’m going to do my job really, really well. (Applause.) I’m going to think about you always. But more importantly, I’m going to use every fiber in my body to make sure that we live in a country that never forgets your service.
So I want to thank you again for your unparalleled service to this country. Thank you to all the shipbuilders for the work that you all will do. We are so proud of you. You can see on this stage how many people are proud of you. And I know for every one of you there are family members who will support and love you every step of the way, so we honor them, as well. It is an honor to serve as your sponsor.
God bless you all. And God bless the United States of America.
2:35 P.M. EDT