Kristen Inbody, Great Falls Tribune
5 February 2018
In a shipyard in Newport News, Va., 10,000 shipbuilders are assembling the millions of pieces that will become the USS Montana.
The components come from every state, but it's the items from Montana that will add some personality to submarine, which is 40 percent complete.
The USS Montana SSN-794 will carry a Montana flag that already has been flown over the Montana Capitol, said Bigfork's Bill Whitsitt, chairman of the USS Montana Committee.
Whitsitt was in Great Falls recently talking subs at the VFW. The committee he leads is preparing for the announcement of the submarine's officers and celebrating the release of a preliminary design for the boat's emblem.
The Navy's design is rich in symbolism, with feathers for Native heritage and a ghostly grizzly bear in the submarine's wake.
"Defendre via vitae" ("to defend the way of life") is above the Vigilantes' code 3-7-77 (also used by the Montana Highway Patrol and Montana National Guard). The dolphins are symbols of the submarine force and reflect the state's motto "Oro y Plata" (Gold and Silver).
A scene from Glacier National Park is incorporated into a half circle at the top of the emblem, above a Montana shape.
"We've talked to the people likely to be named officers, and we can say everyone who is involved with the future USS Montana is excited about the history, heritage, culture and values of our state," Whitsitt said. "They want to portray the best of Montana to the rest of the world."
The submarine won't only be silently sliding through the dark seas. When it arrives in world ports, the USS Montana will fly the Montana flag.
Virtually every Navy ship has a private committee like the USS Montana Committee, which helps to build relationships between constituents and crews, Whitsitt said. The committee provides "flavors of Montana," such as gifts for visitors and "reminders Montana is behind them."
The Montana Historical Society is on board, helping prepare items depicting the state's culture and history.
"All Montana can be proud of what the crew and boat do, and they will know they have a crew of patriots praying for them, looking out for them and willing to support them," Whitsitt said.
The committee also helps with the commissioning.
"That's the most important event in a warship's life. That's when it's taken into the Navy's fleet," Whitsitt said.
The committee also helps support the crew's family, such as, say, with scholarship for their children to attend college in Montana.
The next major event is keel laying (although the submarine is a tube, built in modules, and doesn't have a keel). Anyway, the ceremony celebrates the construction and is expected for this spring.
Whitsitt has been twice to see the construction underway in Newport News. People who sign up as general members of the USS Montana Committee (there's no dues) can get tickets to events.
The new commanding officer is expected to visit Montana in late summer, with senior crew members likely to visit next year.
The new USS Montana won't be the first in the Navy with the name. The first USS Montana, also built in Newport News, launched in 1906. An armored cruiser, it paroled the Atlantic and Mediterranean, landed Marines during unrest in Haiti in 1914 and escorted convoys during World War I. Eventually, she was renamed the Missoula and in the 1930s, sold for scrap. Two USS Montana battleships were planned then pitched.