On October 29th, committee members, Florence and JJ Mackin, visited Groton, CT to attend the commissioning of USS Illinois (SSN 786). Len Waas, Illinois Commissioning Chairman, extended the invitation in the interest of having our committee learn from their experiences.
The Chairman’s Reception was held on the Friday evening before commissioning at the Mystic Hilton Hotel. It was a celebration of the completion of the shipyard period and the hard work put in by the crew in preparing the ship for sea. As committee chairman, Len acknowledged the contributions of the many sponsors who made the event possible. During the program, several companies presented gifts to the crew.
We were also graced by a visit from Illinois’s favorite son, an actor playing Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln shared his wisdom on the importance of the democratic process. His words were especially noteworthy during the 2016 election season.
The Commissioning Ceremony itself was held on Saturday morning at 11am. It was a lovely fall day in Groton with temperatures warm enough not to require jackets or coats. The ceremony began with congratulatory remarks by high level Navy, Shipyard and political officials. Unfortunately, the Governor of Illinois was not in attendance as the Chicago Cubs were playing in the World Series.
Michelle Obama, the Ship’s Sponsor, give a gracious speech expressing her pride in the achievements of the crew and the support of their families in getting the ship ready for commissioning. She pledged her support for the crew over the lifetime of the ship.
The essence of the Commissioning Ceremony is when the Commanding Officer reports to the Chief of Naval Operations that the ship is ready for commissioning and the Commissioning Pennant is raised. The Ship’s Sponsor then declares, “Man our ship and bring her to life.” And the crew runs on board as the ship’s whistle sounds. It is a thrilling moment for all in attendance.
After the Commissioning Ceremony, a reception was held in a large tent at the head of the pier for all 4,000-people attending, featuring special foods from the state of Illinois, including deep dish pizza, ice cream, pulled pork sandwiches and craft beer.
The ship was open for tours after the ceremony. The tours were very thorough with representatives from each division giving an overview of their spaces on board. The submarine is a technological marvel. The professionalism, enthusiasm and pride of the sailors was evident as they described their roles and responsibilities.
The event was well covered by the media. It even made the Denver Post. A video of the ceremony can be viewed at :https://youtu.be/v8fsBedDkcs. See the Navy press release and their photos of the event.
All in all, it was a highly rewarding experience. We had discussions with several members of the USS Illinois Committee, who were very helpful in passing on their experiences in planning and executing the Commissioning week events. We will have the opportunity to put these lessons learned into effect at the commissioning of USS Colorado next summer!