Electric Boat celebrates keel-laying in North Kingstown, R.I., for the Colorado
North Kingstown, R.I. — A thousand more people than usual watched John Alves do his job on Saturday.
Sporting a crisp suit, Alves stepped into coveralls and welding leather, and, with shaky hands from the cold, welded a small but significant plate of steel that will be a permanent part of the Navy’s newest submarine.
Though it only lasted a few minutes, it was the biggest moment of the X-ray welder’s life, he would later say. The moment was made more enjoyable for Alves because as he welded, Electric Boat’s a cappella group The Subtones sang one of his favorite songs by one of his favorite country singers, John Denver, whose CD he has in his car.
Alves, of East Providence, who says he’s 66½ years old, was chosen to weld the initials of Annie Mabus, daughter of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, into the steel, which will be affixed on the submarine Colorado. Annie Mabus is ship sponsor of the Colorado.
This was all part of the Colorado’s keel-laying ceremony Saturday at submarine-builder Electric Boat’s Quonset Point facility in North Kingstown, R.I. The event, which took place in a building where submarine hulls are made, marked the ceremonial start of construction on the 15th Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine.
Actual construction on the Colorado, which weighs nearly 8,000 tons, began on March 2, 2012. She is expected to be delivered to the Navy in August of 2017, and has 132 officers and enlisted personnel assigned to her.
“The backdrop for today’s ceremony directly behind me is what we refer to as section 8-9. This 100-foot, 1,600-ton module will contain Colorado’s engine room. When we transport this module to our Groton shipyard in April, it will be virtually complete, ready to be joined with three other hull sections to form the submarine Colorado,” said EB President Jeffrey Geiger during his remarks.
For Annie Mabus, her knowledge of the ship began four Decembers ago.
“My life changed in December four years ago,” Mabus said, explaining that was when her father informed her she would be the ship sponsor, and showed her a “rendering of what the Colorado would look like.”
Colorado has the first female shipbuilder in the history of the U.S. Navy, and will have women serving on her from day one, she pointed out in her remarks.
“This makes me proud to be sponsor of this ship, proud to be here for this exciting time for women in the Navy,” she said. “And this is due in no small part to my father, who taught me that women belong everywhere, and those who do not think so are wrong.”
Ray Mabus introduced his daughter and explained, “She’s the personal bond between the people who serve in this boat and the American people, who they in this boat will protect.”
Surrounded by the model hulls of submarines, which he’d named, Ray Mabus said, “No one builds warships as good as America. No one.”
Many who spoke at the ceremony credited EB employees for the quality of their work and for efficiently turning out submarines.
“It is tangible. It’s real and it’s enduring what all of these folks have created here in southeastern New England,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, in his remarks.
Courtney started by quoting former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel from a recent visit to the area. Hagel said that southeastern New England has become the Silicon Valley of undersea warfare.
Electric Boat and its partner Newport News Shipbuilding have delivered 11 Virginia-class submarines to the Navy.
Alves himself has contributed to the construction of more than 50 submarines. No one could confirm how or why he was selected to be the welder for the ceremony, but perhaps it had to do with Alves’ welding acceptance rate of 99.95 percent over the last five years.
As he tells it, he came to “EB to learn and be the best.” He holds the highest quality standard in his work, he said, because “lives are at risk when the boats go out to sea.”
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