Students at Stafford Technical Center are putting their stamp on Vermont’s namesake submarine.
Over the past two weeks, students in STC’s Power Mechanics/Welding and Engineering programs have been collaborating to construct a mobile bell stand to be used by the crew of the USS Vermont.
A bell stand is a metal pole that holds the bell used to signal to a ship’s crew when a commanding officer is about to board a ship. The bell stand travels with the submarine and is used wherever it docks. It is also used to display the ship’s banners.
The project was commissioned by the USS Vermont Support Group (VSG), an organization of more than 40 Vermonters who provide support to the submarine’s officers, crew and families for the lifespan of the boat, which is typically 30 years.
VSG’s efforts are relatively new. The USS Vermont only began active service last April. The Virginia-class Block IV nuclear-powered submarine is the third Navy ship to bear Vermont’s name. The first was a warship commissioned in 1816; the second was a battleship commissioned in 1907.
“Our role is to support the morale and welfare of the crew and the families,” said VSG President Gary Frymire.
Another role, according to Frymire, is encouraging connections between the State of Vermont and the boat.
To that end, the group has helped put a uniquely “Green Mountain” stamp on the sub through the inclusion of Vermont memorabilia and artwork, as well as specialty foods like local cheeses and, of course, plenty of maple syrup.
Frymire said it’s a work in progress.
“Hopefully, we’ll come up with new and creative ways to show the boat how much Vermonters go beyond just saying, ‘Thank you for your service,’ and they can make it even more special and personal.”
The bell stand project came about after STC Public Safety/Criminal Justice instructor and military veteran June Kelly connected the VSG with STC Power Mechanics/Welding instructor Tony Bosnich when the group expressed a desire to build a bell stand for the sub.
Bosnich, who served as hull repair technician on a Navy repair ship for several years in the 1990s, said he has been approached by veterans groups to work on projects in the past, but this one worked out because it was a manageable size for his class.
Frymire noted the enthusiasm Bosnich and the rest of the STC team had for the project.
“They were on this in a heartbeat,” he said, adding that Bosnich’s past service was “divine providence.”
Frymire explained that he could not locate any official specifications for a bell stand, so he traveled to Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, to see one in person.
Bosnich and his students then worked from photographs provided by Frymire, who gave them the freedom to design something unique.
“I think they’ll probably be doing something that, if you will, kicks it up a notch,” Frymire said.
Bosnich said his students have felt a sense of pride while working on the project, noting that Stafford has the opportunity to leave its mark on the sub.
The design will include STC’s logo, as well as a Navy hull technician insignia — a nod to Bosnich’s past service.
Once Bosnich’s program has completed construction of the bell stand, students from STC’s Auto Body Repair program will paint it.
VSG member and Navy submarine veteran Wayne Pickett said the bell stand will serve as an example of a meaningful connection between the submarine and the Green Mountain State.
“This will be with the boat for 30 years,” he said.
Bosnich said he expects the bell stand to be completed later this week. It will then be sent to Naval Submarine Base New London to be received by the USS Vermont crew once the sub returns to base.
Cindy Dunigan, outreach coordinator for STC, said the collaborative nature of the project — working with multiple teams and meeting various deadlines — is a useful lesson for Stafford students.
“There’s always another department, there’s always another faction that you have to work with,” she said. “That’s invaluable to our students to see that in real-life on a real project.”
Bosnich added that the project is a welcome bit of positivity in a school year made difficult by the pandemic.
“We need some ‘feel goods’ in the community and school system right now,” he said.