HELENA — Montana state leaders gathered in Helena Wednesday to celebrate the future U.S. Navy submarine that bears the state’s name.
In the State Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chamber, Gov. Greg Gianforte, legislative leaders and other state officials rang the bell that will eventually be presented to the crew of the USS Montana, an advanced nuclear-powered attack submarine that is set to be completed in the next few months.
“It’s unbelievably gratifying for all of us to see and feel the love and the support of Montanans in all parts of the state,” said Bill Whitsitt, chairman of the USS Montana Committee, a Montana-based organization supporting the submarine’s commissioning. “Montanans are patriots, we’re courageous, we have values that these crew members treasure, and that they will take in their assignments around the world.”
Leaders also heard a presentation from the boat’s commanding officer, Capt. Michael Delaney, who appeared by Zoom.
“Over the last three years in command, I’ve noticed an increased sense of pride and excitement amongst the crew at having the honor to represent the courage and determination of Montanans – a spirit we will take with us as this incredible warship sets out far from home in defense of our nation,” he said.
Delaney provided an update on construction. The USS Montana is currently more than 90% complete and being worked on in Newport News, Virginia. Once finished, it will be more than 370 feet long, 34 feet wide, and about 7,800 tons. It already has 135 crew members – including five from Montana – who are currently in training.
The boat is expected to begin sea trials this summer, and it could be officially commissioned into the Navy early next year.
“Montana is only a few months away from going to sea as one of the most powerful warships the Navy has ever built,” said Delaney.
The submarine’s bell is a smaller replica of the bell from the original USS Montana, an armored cruiser that served during World War I, and the only Navy ship named after the state. It will be officially turned over to the crew at the commissioning. Before that, the USS Montana Committee hopes to hold events with the bell at a number of locations around Montana.
The bell was cast by the Bellingham Bell Company in Maine. In honor of the state motto – “Oro y plata,” Spanish for “gold and silver” – the makers included gold and silver from dolphin pins worn by submariners, as well as pieces of gold and silver from Butte and Philipsburg.
“The crew is excited about this bell, the heritage it reflects and the values of Montana that it will carry into dangerous places around the world,” said Whitsitt.
During Wednesday’s event, Gianforte thanked Delaney for his crew’s service.
“This submarine will always embark with the support of all of Montana, and any sailor who boards her will be an honorary Montanan,” he said.
You can find out more about the submarine at the USS Montana Committee’s website.