“Montana has been incredible!” was the way Lt. Aaron Bishop of Huson, Montana, at one point described in a Kalispell Daily Inter Lake article the experience he and other crew members were having during visits to various parts of Montana in June and July.
Montanans certainly had mutual feelings about the visiting crew members. In places like Great Falls, Fort Benton, Belt, Helena, Kalispell, Arlee and Bigfork the support and respect for the young sailors were evidenced by eruptions of spontaneous applause, whether at community gatherings, rodeos, the Arlee Native American Pow Wow, or the Kalispell 4th of July parade.
Goals of such crew visits include laying a foundation of support for the young sailors who will serve aboard MONTANA for three decades and having crew members take back to their colleagues a feel for Montana history, culture, values and economy. This year’s phased crew visits have been designed by the Navy and USS Montana Committee (the official commissioning committee of the Virginia Class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine that will carry the state’s name) to allow small groups of sailors to spend enough time in different parts of the state to better focus on unique attributes of each.
In June three crew members arrived in Great Falls and spent the better part of a week in that area. Led by Machinists Mate Senior Chief Petty Officer Dale Noerenberg (the boat’s Maintenance and Material Management Coordinator), the group also included Electronics Technician (Nuclear) First Class Kevin Rooke (The Reactor Control Division Leading Petty Officer) and Machinist Mate (Weapons) Fireman Matthew Kunzik.
They were joined by PCU (for pre-commissioning unit) MONTANA’s commanding officer, Commander Mike Delaney.
Highlights of their stay included visits to the First People’s Buffalo Jump at Ulm, historic Fort Benton, Malmstrom Air Force Base and a Minuteman III ICBM launch control facility, the Belt Rodeo, and a number of community events in Great Falls.
Sr. Chief Noerenberg even came upon a coiled rattlesnake at the Buffalo Jump. While he had wanted to see one sometime, he indicated that he hadn’t counted on such an up-close-and-personal experience!
CDR Delaney and crewmembers also traveled to Helena for a moving tribute to the USS HELENA, a previous-version nuclear-powered fast attack submarine nearing the end of her service life after long and distinguished service including Cold War missions still secret, and to the MONTANA.
The luncheon event was attended by state and local officials, and was sponsored by the City of Helena, the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce and the USS Montana Committee.
Commander Delaney provided a detailed update on MONTANA’s construction progress in Newport News, Virginia, and the coming together of the crew that is training to operate the high-tech warship.
Then crew members joined him to answer lots of questions from the audience about the MONTANA and its capabilities, and life aboard a submarine.
The Helena experience also included a tour of the Montana State Capitol and meeting with the Lieutenant Governor.
At the Montana Historical Society Museum, the crew had the unique experience of seeing the original MONTANA’s silver service displayed for them.
The invaluable exquisitely engraved pieces are only on public display infrequently because of space limitations. However, the crew learned that the Museum and the USS Montana Committee are considering the possibility of a 3-D-printed replica of one of the service pieces being included in an onboard Montana history and culture display.
Following a tour of Helena, the day was capped by experiencing the “Gates of the Mountains” on the Missouri River as Lewis and Clark may have seen them during their exploration of what was acquired in the in the Louisiana Purchase — including what would become the Territory, and then State, of Montana.
Crew members also visited Northwestern Montana and the Flathead Valley during the 4th of July week.
Included were LT. Aaron Bishop (Assistant Operations Officer and Montana native), Culinary Specialist Petty Officer Marlon Haughton (a Navy chef) and Electricians Mate (Nuclear) Petty Officer Tyler Fellows (part of the group responsible for operation of the ship’s electric plant).
Highlights included visiting Superintendent Jeff Mow and veterans on the staff of Glacier National Park. The Park is represented in a scene featured in the MONTANA’s official emblem.
The crew members helped to lead the Kalispell 4th of July parade.
Later that day at the Arlee Native American Pow Wow, one of the nation’s
largest such celebrations, they participated in the opening and veterans recognition ceremonies.
There the MONTANA was presented with a flag of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
The crew reciprocated with a MONTANA plaque presented to CSKT Tribal Council Chairman Ron Trahan. Chairman Trahan later met with the crew at the Tribal complex in Pablo.
After spending the night sleeping in a Tepee, the crew toured the National Bison Range, learning about the history and significance of buffalo to Native Americans and the United States.
In addition to meeting area residents, the crew had a veterans/Boy Scout discussion session in Bigfork.
The visit culminated with the crew’s participating in the opening flag and Pledge of Allegiance ceremony of the Bigfork professional rodeo.
Even a bit of rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd and crew.
The USS Montana Committee thanks all who have helped with crew visits, and who have joined in meeting the incredible young people who will serve “on-scene, unseen” aboard the USS MONTANA to defend our nation and our way of life.
One more crew visit is tentatively scheduled for mid-August. If confirmed, more information will be provided in this News blog section of the ussmontanacommittee.us website.