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State launches bell tour in honor of new submarine USS Montana

By PHIL DRAKE | Independent Record, Helena, Mont. | Published: April 1, 2021

HELENA, Mont. (Tribune News Service) — Several people gathered Wednesday at the Capitol to celebrate a nuclear-powered U.S. Navy submarine that will bear the state's name and carry a crew of honorary Montanans.

A bell for the USS Montana — the first Navy vessel to be named after the state since 1908 — was unveiled at the event that marked the beginning of a nearly yearlong series of presentations with the bell throughout Montana.

"This is a great day," Gov. Greg Gianforte said, noting the Treasure State has a proud history of military service.

"Veterans are part of the fabric of our state and our communities," he said.

Gianforte said Capt. Michael Delaney, commanding officer of USS Montana, who was participating online, was an "excellent choice" to be the submarine's first commander.

"In case your crew doesn't already know it, this submarine will always embark with the support of all of Montana and any sailor who boards her will be an honorary Montanan," Gianforte said. "May God keep her, Capt. Delaney, and your crew safe."

Delaney said five of the 135 crew members are from Montana. He said the USS Montana was tested to be seaworthy and they can now do much of their training on board.

"I would like to thank the citizens of Montana for their support of the crew through numerous avenues," he said, adding that support included hosting crew members visiting Montana at their homes to providing Montana hot sauce to spice up their meals.

"It's obvious your support has been incredible," Delaney said.

Bill Whitsitt of the USS Montana Committee showed the public the Oro y Plata ship bell, a replica of the bell for the first USS Montana. He said when it was rung it was important to remember the missions the crew members will take on behalf of this country. The USS Montana Committee is a nonprofit created by a group of Montana residents wanting to support the submarine and endorsed by the governor and Legislature in 2017.

"Bless those who serve beneath the deep, through lonely hours their vigil keep," he said, reciting the Navy hymn.

The event was capped with various state officials and others lined up to ring the bell.

The USS Montana was launched March 3 into the James River at Huntington Ingalls Industries' Newport News Shipbuilding division in Virginia, company officials said. The $2.6 billion USS Montana, also known as SSN 794, is scheduled to be commissioned in spring 2022.

The 7,800-ton nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarine is 377-feet long. It is a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine that will replace the Navy's Los Angeles-class submarines as they are retired. The submarines incorporate dozens of new technologies that increase firepower, maneuverability and stealth and enhance their warfighting capabilities. These submarines can support multiple mission areas and can operate at more than 25 knots for months at a time.

They have 12 Tomahawk missile tubes and four torpedo tubes, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

The submarine will be outfitted with reminders of the Treasure State. The insignia, the official emblem of the USS Montana, includes a Glacier National Park scene, a gold star within the submarine's hull number, SSN 794 and the state motto of Oro y Plata (gold and silver).

It includes two eagle feathers representing the values, culture, and courage of Native American warriors and their tribes, a grizzly bear and 3-7-77, a symbol associated with Montana's early citizen vigilantes.

The first USS Montana, ACR-13, was an armored cruiser also built at Newport News Shipbuilding and commissioned in July 1908. She served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, landed Marines during unrest in Haiti in 1914 and escorted convoys during World War I. She was decommissioned in 1921.

Gianforte was joined at the front of the room by Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, and Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., briefly addressed the crowd online. Submarine veterans were among the veterans in attendance.

(c)2021 the Independent Record (Helena, Mont.)
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