First lady strikes thrice to christen submarine Illinois

Groton — It was a fitting way to christen the Navy's newest and most advanced nuclear attack submarine.

An Illinois native, first lady Michelle Obama, smashed a bottle of sparkling wine from her home state on the hull of the submarine bearing the same name.

It took her three tries before a determined Obama successfully cracked the bottle, causing an immediate eruption of sparkling wine.

As the ship sponsor, she was at the center of Saturday's christening of the Illinois (SSN 786), which took place at Electric Boat's construction facility in Groton.

She joins Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and other first ladies who have sponsored submarines.

The ceremony comes between the keel laying — the ceremonial start of construction — and the commissioning, when a submarine is delivered to the fleet.

"The fact is that very few folks in this country understand the details of what you all are doing every single day," Obama said. "So today, I want to take a moment to share that story with people all across America, particularly right now, as you prepare to take this sub out for its first sea trials in a few months."

Describing the submarine she was standing on, Obama said the Illinois weighs "nearly 8,000 tons, (is) longer than a football field, and it's really a technological wonder."

"It's full of technology like the photonics mast full of high resolution and infrared cameras. It has the most advanced stealth, sonar and communications systems, and enough high-definition screens to put Best Buy out of business," she said to laughs from the audience.

"And all of this truly is a testament to the talent and skill of the folks who built this boat," she continued.

The sponsor is tied to the ship throughout its lifetime, or as the first lady put it, she'll be involved with the Illinois long after her family leaves the White House.

In speaking to the 132 crew members lined up and standing on top of their submarine, Obama said: "For months at a time you might not see the sun. You might not breathe fresh air. You might go for weeks without being able to call or text or email your families. That's the kind of unparalleled service and sacrifice that all of you perform for our nation."

She also made sure to thank the military families present, saying: "I know that so often, your service as family members goes unrecognized — that folks across the country don't always see the courage and strength and dedication of our military spouses and our military children."

The $2.7 billion submarine is the 13th ship in the Virginia class, the most advanced class of submarines in the world, according to EB President Jeff Geiger, and the third of the new Block III, which features a redesigned bow section.

EB and Newport News have delivered 12 Virginia-class submarines to the Navy; another nine are under construction.

In his remarks, Geiger singled out EB employee Cassidy Flynn "who was preceded at the shipyard by both of his grandfathers."

"There are literally hundreds of multi-generational stories like Cassidy's at Electric Boat and thousands more of men and women who have made their careers proudly applying their skills to the design and construction of our Navy's submarine fleet," Geiger said.

The Rev. Jack E. Madry, pastor of the Madry Temple Church on Manwaring Street in New London, performed the blessing of the ship.

Several members of Connecticut's Washington, D.C., delegation in gave remarks, including U.S.  Rep Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and U.S. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Illinois is expected to be delivered to the Navy on Aug. 31, 2016.

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: @JuliaSBergman


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