Mrs. Donna Willard is the ship’s sponsor and served as keel authenticator for the ceremony. She is the wife of Adm. Robert F. Willard, the United States Navy 32nd and current Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
“From my heart, I want you all to know how honored I am to be the sponsor of the USS California. I want to thank then-Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter for selecting me for this tremendous privilege,” said Willard. “It’s not just about the steel on the outside of the California that makes this so exciting for me, but rather it’s the men on the inside. They are the sons, the brothers, the husbands and the fathers who will give life to this boat. They are the ones who go in harm’s way in defense of our freedom.”
Mrs. Willard authenticated California’s stern unit by chalking her initials onto a metal plate. Her initials were then welded onto the plate by Newport News welder Scott Hallinger. The plate will be permanently affixed to the submarine prior to its delivery to the Navy.
Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion, spoke about the success of the Virginia-class program. “Through the successful commissioning of five ships of the Virginia class, we’ve proven that we know how to do this. The on-time, on-cost, on-quality reputation of this program is well documented, and I’m convinced that if we ‘stick to our knitting,’ California will be the best of the class.”
Matt Mulherin, sector vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding-Newport News, presided over the event. Other ceremony participants included U.S. Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, (D-Va.); California’s Prospective Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Kevin Kinslow; and General Dynamics Electric Boat President John Casey. Guests included Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Electric Boat employees who are building California; officers and crew of the Pre-Commissioning Unit California; U.S. Navy personnel; and government officials.
“As impressive as this submarine will be when complete, we will marvel not only at the ship itself, but at the people who built it, the people who will sail it, and the people it will defend,” said Mulherin. “Thank you to the shipbuilders of Northrop Grumman and Electric Boat, the crew of the Pre-Commissioning Unit California, our Navy partners and the legislators who make this work possible. We are a formidable team indeed.”
California, the eighth ship of the Virginia class, is named after the “Golden State.” It will be christened next year, and upon delivery to the Navy in 2011, will be the most modern and sophisticated attack submarine in the world, providing undersea supremacy well into the 21st century. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding is teamed with General Dynamics Electric Boat to build Virginia class submarines.
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