By Ernie Leidiger
Minnesota State Rep. District 47A
On Sept. 7, 2013, the U.S. Navy received a new vessel into its fleet, the USS Minnesota SSN 783, the country’s most advanced fast attack, nuclear-powered submarine.
Just as every state in the nation has its own independence, character, and energy, representative of its people, so too does each naval ship and its crew.
That is why earlier this month a delegation of Minnesotans, including 24 state legislators, two U.S. Senators, a U.S. Congressman, the Minnesota Secretary of State, and over 100 citizens, traveled from the Midwest to Norfolk, Virginia, to embed our state’s essence to the crew as the boat was commissioned into service.
For three days we built relationships with the crew. We heard their stories, why they were serving, where they hailed from, and what made them tick. We shared with them our knowledge, our sense of purpose, our sense of esprit de corps, and ultimately our fighting spirit. We came away knowing these men and women are America’s best, and that the ship and those who operate it had become an extension of our state, a living, breathing piece of Minnesota.
Those of us in attendance felt so truly honored just to be there and observe the traditions, pomp, and ceremony leading up to and surrounding the event. We each had our own reason to be there. Either a family member had served or we ourselves had previous experience, or some of us had no experience and felt like this was the chance of a lifetime. What mattered was our presence and what it meant to the crew, believing that imprinting our state’s essence onto them was as important as anything we could ever do in our lives.
The commissioning of the USS Minnesota was the third time in the nation’s history that a naval ship was named after the state. The first was a Civil War wooden steamship built in 1855, followed later by a World War I battleship that was part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet.
In the beginning of the last century, battleships were thought to be the capital ships within the fleet, and they were named after states. Now, after our aircraft carriers, it’s the submarine that is a capital ship and again named after states.
Incredibly, the past 40 years has seen a major reduction in the number of U.S. Navy ships, from about 600 to less than 300. Some say it’s a time of revolution in sea power due to technological advancements. Our nation continually wrestles with the idea and plan that retired ships being replaced by much more sophisticated capable platforms will adequately offset numbers.
The current USS Minnesota is capable of carrying and firing many long-range missiles that can deliver warheads hundreds of miles over land to its target, from unseen locations around the world. This is a whole new dimension of warfighting capability that, when combined with Air Force innovations in stealth technology and ground troop insertion innovations, keeps the United States very strong.
Building a capital ship like the USS Minnesota is expensive, almost $3 billion worth of hardware and crew training investment. It requires a special person, technologically adaptable, and morally and physically strong, to operate this machine. A crew of 135 can deliver potentially as much fire power as an entire World War II battle group with pinpoint accuracy that makes actual comparisons difficult.
Today, one of our Navy’s capital ships, a fast attack submarine, named after a most important unit within our Republic — a state — is at sea. Minnesotans can be proud that the U.S. Navy’s most advanced vessel is patrolling the seas with the essence of our state aboard.
For the next 35 years I and others will support the crew by maintaining a relationship with the brave men and women who sacrifice their all for our nation. I encourage you to join me in this journey.
To learn more about the USS Minnesota, please view the Minnesota delegation’s blog at http://ussminnesotacommissioningtour.tumblr.com/ for behind-the-scenes photos and links to news articles and videos about the ship. Thanks are also in order for the Navy League of the United States — Twin Cities Council for its instrumental role in organizing the trip.
Representative Leidiger is a retired Navy lieutenant commander. He can be reached by phone at (651) 296-4282. He can also be contacted via e-mail at [email protected], or via U.S. Mail at 317 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155. Rep. Leidiger also encourages constituents to sign up for his email updates at www.house.mn/47a.