NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Larry Salter, president of the local Navy League council, will be present Saturday at USS Washington’s keel-laying ceremony as a prelude to the group leading the Virginia-class submarine’s 2016 commissioning ceremony.
Keel-laying is the symbolic beginning of building a ship, though the USS Washington (SSN 787) doesn’t have a keel and construction began three years ago. A keel is a large structural beam that serves as the spine of a ship’s hull. During the ceremony, the ship’s sponsor authenticates the keel by chalking her initials onto a metal plate. The initials are then welded onto a plate that is permanently affixed to the ship.
The USS Washington’s sponsor is Elisabeth Mabus, daughter of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the keynote speaker. Two Washington residents will play roles in the ceremony. Welder Dustin Utecht, a Richland native, will weld sponsor Mabus’ initials into the plate, and Abigail Matthews, a fourth-grader at Gig Harbor’s Discovery Elementary School, will fly to Virginia to serve as the flower girl.
Salter and Mike Sharp, a retired rear admiral and former Navy League board member, planned to meet the crew and tour the shipyard Friday, then Salter would attend the ceremony Saturday.
“I’ve never been to one,” Salter said. “It surely will be interesting. In my 28 years in the Navy and my 12 years in Navy League, I have never been to a keel-laying ceremony.”
A webcast of the event will be provided at huntingtoningalls.com/ssn787. It begins at 1 p.m. Pacific time.
The 14th Virginia-class submarine will be the fourth ship named after the Evergreen State. It will be based in Honolulu. Its commissioning will occur in Virginia, Hawaii or Washington. That discussion won’t be broached for many months, but Salter, of Bremerton, hopes for the Kitsap area because his outfit volunteered to lead the event. The group will have to raise thousands of dollars and put in lots of effort.
Sharp, of Bainbridge Island, is chairman of the commissioning committee, which includes Salter, Alan Beam and Kevin Torcolini, all of the local Navy league.
“It’s a privilege to be able to host the commissioning ceremony and bring a new ship into the Navy,” Salter said. “I’m looking forward to that in a couple years. We’re happy to be here (at the keel-laying ceremony) for the beginning of it.”
Mabus visited Seattle in February 2013 for a ship-naming ceremony with Gov. Jay Inslee. There hadn’t been one named after Washington since the battleship USS Washington left service after World War II.
The USS Bremerton, which is nearing the end of its life, is stationed at Pearl Harbor. It is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2017.