The Navy celebrated the keel laying of Pre-Commissioning Unit North Dakota (SSN 784) at General Dynamics Electric Boat-Quonset Point division in North Kingstown, May 11.
In a time-honored Navy tradition, ship's sponsor Katie Fowler, wife of retired Vice Adm. Jeff Fowler, had her initials welded onto a steel plate that will be permanently affixed to North Dakota's hull.
"Being chosen to be the sponsor of North Dakota has been a great joy of my life," said Fowler. "I am looking forward to a life-long relationship with my ship and its crew."
Fowler, a native of Virginia, also stated that she was proud to be a sponsor of a Virginia-class submarine.
"USS North Dakota will always be in my thoughts and prayers," said Fowler prior to the welding of her initials, which signifies a bond between the submarine and her crew.
Fowler, a former educator, has also served as a community leader as well as a supportive volunteer for most of her husband's active-duty career. She has been recognized for her volunteer efforts with two Navy Public Service Awards.
Military attendees at the keel laying event included Adm. Kirkland Donald, director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion; Vice Adm. John Richardson, commander, Submarine Forces Atlantic; Rear Adm. Dave Johnson, PEO Submarines; Rear Adm. Rick Breckenridge, commander, Submarine Group 2; and Rear Adm. Stuart Munsch, deputy director, Undersea Warfare (OPNAV N97).
"The Navy/industry shipbuilding team continues to build and deliver these outstanding assets ahead of schedule and ready to contribute to the high tempo operations our Submarine Force executes around the globe," said Rear Adm. David Johnson, program executive officer for Submarines.
Vice Adm. John Richardson, commander, Submarine Forces Atlantic spoke during the ceremony emphasizing the importance of partnerships.
"Today marks the first time we bring together the whole team of partners as we start this journey together," said Richardson. "To mark our dedication, we'll strike an arc and weld our sponsor's initials into the steel that will become one of the most capable warships in the world - extending our undersea superiority for decades."
Richardson also emphasized the important role of the ship's sponsor during the life of the submarine.
"I can think of no one better, than her sponsor Ms. Katie Fowler, who has become the heart and soul of this crew," said Richardson. "In the tradition of her namesake state, from this moment on, may the North Dakota always be a 'Peace Garden' for our friends and allies, and be like the 'Rough Riders' to those who threaten us."
Government officials from Rhode Island and North Dakota also attended the milestone event, as well as a commissioning committee delegation.
"The May 11 keel laying ceremony for our USS North Dakota marks the first major milestone in the journey of the second U.S. Navy ship to be named after our great state of North Dakota," said Bob Wefald, PCU North Dakota Commissioning Committee chair.
"As the commissioning chair, I'm delighted to be able to attend this ceremony as all of us in North Dakota intend to keep this marvelous submarine and its crew in thoughts and prayers not only in its construction, but throughout its thirty-three years of expected service life," said Wefald.
The congressional leadership who attended included Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island; Sen. John Hoeven, of North Dakota; Rep. Jim Langevin, of Rhode Island; and Rep. David Cicilline, of Rhode island. North Dakota's keel-laying is the submarine's first major event since it began construction in 2009.
In addition to North Dakota's keel laying, the Virginia-class program will celebrate PCU Mississippi's (SSN 782) commissioning in June and PCU Minnesota's (SSN 783) christening in November.
Cmdr. Doug Gordon, PCU North Dakota's commanding officer also emphasized the meaning of this event for the shipyard and the crew.
"Today's keel laying event is not only an important milestone event in the construction phase of North Dakota, but also is a testament to the hard work by our shipbuilding partners and the crew," said Gordon.
PCU North Dakota, the second ship named in honor of North Dakota, will be delivered by General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton and will be the 11th Virginia-class submarine when it is commissioned in 2014.
The only other ship to bear the name North Dakota was the Delaware-class USS North Dakota (BB 29), which was in service from 1910 to 1923.
Virginia-class submarines are designed to dominate the world's littoral and deep waters while conducting anti-submarine; anti-surface ship; strike; irregular; and mine warfare missions; as well as support special operation forces; and covert intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.