MONTPELIER — Despite being landlocked, Vermont continues to receive distinction on the high seas with the upcoming commission of a new nuclear-powered fast-attack naval submarine named after the state.
The PCU (pre-commission unit) Vermont, currently under construction in Groton, Connecticut, will be christened Oct. 20 and commissioned next year, becoming the USS Vermont.
To mark both events, the Vermont-based commissioning committee gathered last Tuesday to greet visiting guests who toured the State House and meet with naval and military veterans in the state at a reception attended by Gov. Phil Scott at the Capitol Plaza Hotel & Conference Center. Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson also greeted the delegation.
Visiting guests included the sub’s sponsor, Gloria Valdez, who will christen the ship in a ceremony attended by the governor and other state officials and veterans’ representatives. Valdez was a former deputy assistant secretary of the Navy before she retired in April after 29 years’ service, responsible for executive oversight of naval ship building, maintenance, modernization, conversion and disposal programs. She was also responsible for several naval and marine corps’ combat, electronic warfare, radar and missile defense systems.
Also present were the ship’s captain, Cmdr. Henry M. Roenke, and Master Chief James F. Brownson. Both men have visited the city before with the crew of the PCU Vermont, to march in the Independence Day parade in 2017 and this year. They joined the crew of sister sub, USS Montpelier, which has marched in the parade for many years.
The PCU Vermont is a Virginia Class submarine, the latest complement of fast-attack submarines to succeed Los Angeles Class of attack submarines, such as the USS Montpelier.
The USS Vermont is the 19th Virginia Class submarine under construction at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton. When completed, it will be 377 feet long with a hull diameter of 34 feet, a draft of 30 feet, and will displace 7,800 tons.
At Thursday’s reception, guests were welcomed by Bill Moore, executive director and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce. He shared a story about being a member of a group that helped save the Navy submarine base in New London, Connecticut, from closure in 2005. The base will be the home of the USS Vermont, and is where the USS Montpelier is already based.
Scott lauded Vermont’s military connections, including naval vessels. He noted the USS Vermont will be the third naval vessel to bear the state’s name, after a Connecticut Class battleship (1905-20) and a receiving ship (1848-1901). There was also another navy sub, named for Vermont Revolutionary War hero, Ethan Allen (1960-83).
Scott said other Vermont connections to the military included Norwich University, the nation’s oldest private military academy, and the anticipated arrival of the F-35 fighter jet, and Montpelier-born Richard Cody, a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot who went on to be a member of the U.S. Army Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“So, again, a long history for us, here in Vermont, that we have a lot to be proud of,” Scott said. “Our longstanding partnership with the Navy is an important part of our history and the USS Vermont will ensure that it remains an important part for our future. So I’m confident the (USS) Vermont will share the commitment to service and resilience of its namesake.”
Valdez said she was proud to serve in the Navy and sponsor the new sub representing Vermont, and thanked military veterans present for their service.
Valdez noted that New England was where her civilian career began with the Navy, where she was introduced to submarines and where she met her husband of 27 years, a retired submariner.
“The Navy provided so many opportunities for me,” she said. “So it’s been a remarkable journey for me.”
She said she was asked in March by the secretary of the Navy to be the sponsor of the USS Vermont.
“That was just a complete surprise for me, an incredible honor to have this opportunity to be the sponsor for the (USS) Vermont is somewhat overwhelming. This is a responsibility I cherish, and I look to Vermonters to support me in that capacity. I say that the (USS) Vermont will be imbued not only with my spirit, but with the spirit of Vermonters as well,” she added.
Roenke thanked Scott and the commissioning committee for their support of the crew of the PCU Vermont.
“You can have no doubt that when PCU Vermont is delivered next year to the U.S. Navy that your namesake will be the most capable, most technologically advanced warship submarine in the world,” Roenke said. “What I need your help with is building this enduring relationship between the people of Vermont, the current crew and the future crews, a relationship that is going to last 33 years or more.”
Commissioning committee chairwoman Debra Martin, of Middlesex, who has worked with the crews of both the USS Montpelier and the PCU Vermont, added: “It’s a real honor to have the commanding officer and the chief of the boat here today. But to bring the sponsor of the boat with them is a special, special honor. We’re going to do our best to keep our connections with this Vermont boat as it progresses along and are looking forward to the christening ceremony on Oct. 20.”