NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (NNS) -- The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Missouri (SSN 780) reached her first major milestone Sept. 27, during her keel authentication ceremony held at the General Dynamics Electric Boat facility in North Kingstown.
Caesar S. DeSanto Sr. welded the initials of Rebecca W. Gates onto a plate of steel to symbolize the authentication of the keel. Gates, the wife of Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, is the sponsor for Missouri, the seventh Virginia-class submarine to join the fleet.
U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was the principal speaker for the ceremony.
"All Missourians can take pride that a namesake to the 'Mighty Mo' will soon be joining the fleet, this time in the silent service," said Skelton, in a reference to the World War II-era battleship USS Missouri (BB 63).
Skelton thanked Gates for accepting the role of sponsor for the fifth ship to bear the name USS Missouri.
"Being a sponsor is not a one- or two-ceremony job," added Skelton. "This is your ship" - he spoke of Missouri's initial manning crew, who were standing in formation next to the stage - "These are your Sailors. A sponsor may stay as involved as she wishes with her ship, and I hope that you do."
Skelton, who has represented Missouri's 4th Congressional District since 1977, pointed out that many of the Sailors that will haul down Missouri's commissioning pennant when the submarine is decommissioned more than three decades from now won't be born for another five to 10 years.
"Our submarine force is built upon a strong legacy of selecting and training the best people, building and maintaining the best ships, and equipping those ships with the latest technology and most advanced equipment," said Commander Submarine Force Vice Adm. John Donnelly.
"Today, Missouri will complete a significant milestone toward adding to that legacy. She will join her sister ships of the Virginia class to provide a huge leap forward in capabilities to accomplish new missions in this new century."
Chairman of the USS Missouri Commissioning Committee Sam Bushman attended the ceremony.
"I think it's wonderful," said Bushman, a small business owner from Missouri's capital of Jefferson City. "We had ships named Missouri in the Navy during the 19th and 20th centuries, and it's nice to have a new Missouri joining the fleet again in the 21st century."
Cmdr. Dale F. Green, officer in charge of Pre-Commissioning Unit Missouri, was happy to see the ship reach this first of three major milestones. The other two milestones are christening and commissioning ceremonies.
"We consider it to be an honor to be the able to continue the great history the name USS Missouri brings to the fleet," said Green. "We try to fold a lot of USS Missouri history into what we do on the ship, using one of the guiding principles of the chiefs mess - heritage - in our everyday activities."
While most keel authentication ceremonies are attended by only a few crew members, Green brought his entire crew to Rhode Island for this ceremony.
"We've tried to make this a very big deal for the crew, which is why our entire crew was here today," said Green. "We wanted them to understand that this was a very big deal. It's important for the first crew to be molded into the team that's building the ship."
The other two members of the triad building Missouri are General Dynamics Electric Boat, Groton, Conn., and Northrop-Grumman Shipbuilding, Newport News, Va., who have a teaming agreement to share construction of the first 10 of a planned 30 Virginia-class submarines.
"Between the three of us, we will form what the ship is going to be, from the steel to the people," added Green. "This is really a shipyard thing today, but it was important for me to get the crew involved, to get them invested in it. To a man, everyone was excited about being a part of the ceremony."
The first ship to bear the name USS Missouri was a combination steam/sail vessel commissioned in 1842, only 21 years after the state was admitted to the union. The second Missouri was a side-wheel steamer that saw service for the Confederate Navy on the Mississippi River during the Civil War. The third Missouri (BB 11), a battleship commissioned in 1903, participated in President Theodore Roosevelt's Great White Fleet that made an around-the-world tour displaying U.S. naval power Dec. 16, 1907 to Feb. 22, 1909.
The most recent and perhaps most famous ship to bear the name Missouri was an Iowa-class battleship (BB 63). The ship saw nearly continuous combat action from her arrival in the Pacific theater in 1944 to hosting the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay that ended World War II Sept. 2, 1945. The ship later saw service in the Korean War before being decommissioned in 1955. She returned to active naval service in 1986 and fired some of the first strikes of the first Persian Gulf War. She was decommissioned again in 1992 and is now a floating museum in Pearl Harbor.
The submarine Missouri is expected to join the fleet during a commissioning ceremony in the summer of 2010.
For more news from Commander, Submarine Force, visit www.navy.mil/local/sublant/.