NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – After inspecting her initials, etched into a piece of steel, First Lady Michelle Obama declared the keel of the U.S.S. Illinois to be “well and truly laid.”
As sponsor of the Virginia-class submarine, which bears the name of her home state, Obama attended the keel-laying ceremony at Electric Boat’s facility in Quonset Point Monday afternoon. Per Navy tradition, she initialed a piece of steel, which welder Michael Macomber of Middletown then etched into metal. The steel will then be mounted onto the submarine.
“This is really cool,” Obama said about the honor, adding that her daughters Malia and Sasha will serve as honorary maids of honor for the sub.
The First Lady thanked the Electric Boat workers who have been working countless hours building the sub, and also praised the sailors who will serve aboard the Illinois.
“Everyday your service speaks volumes,” Obama said. “I’m going to think about you always.”
The Illinois will be the 13th ship of her class, and is already about 70 percent complete, according to a General Dynamics Electric Boat spokesman. It’s due to be delivered to the Navy in 2016 and is one vessel in the largest Naval shipbuilding contract in United States history.
“This vessel will be technologically unmatched,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
In late April, General Dynamics announced that it had won a major contract to build 10 more Virginia-class submarines, which are replacing the aging Los Angeles-class submarines in Navy service. The contract is valued at about $17 billion and is expected to result in Electric Boat hiring as many as 3,000 new workers at the North Kingstown location as the ships are built.
- Photos: First Lady visits Rhode Island
“It took us a while to convince and coax the Navy to get this contract done,” said Sen. Jack Reed, (D) Rhode Island. “But, once they did it, we have the firm commitment from the Navy to see this through over the next several years to build these ships.”
Each Virginia-class submarine is 377 feet long, can dive to more than 800 feet, carry a crew of about 130 and are armed with a variety of torpedoes and missiles.
Rhode Island State Police told Eyewitness News they would be assisting the Secret Service with security arrangements Monday. The First Lady was scheduled to leave North Kingstown and head to an event in Boston later in the afternoon.
Watch Eyewitness News starting live at five for the latest on the First Lady’s visit to Rhode Island.