Montanans were thrilled to see and hear from the commanding officer of the new USS MONTANA and two crew members who recently visited Helena and Bozeman — and who had their own excitement in Yellowstone National Park on a snowy afternoon!
The highlight of the visit was presentation to the State of Montana of the commissioning pennant that was hoisted aboard the USS MONTANA as she joined the Navy fleet last year.
The pennant, with its rich tradition from sailing ship days when a pennant would have differentiated a man-of-war from a merchant ship, was presented to Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras by CDR Jon Quimby, SSN 794’s commanding officer. Said Juras in accepting the pennant for the State of Montana, “It reflects on how important this relationship is to us and how proud we are that the ship was named for state.”
Looking on with legislators and state officials in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol were the MONTANA’s assistant operations Officer, Cody Popelka of Cut Bank, and Engineering Department Master Chief ETNCS Kevin Frey. Lt. Gov. Juras told the crowd that Governor Greg Gianforte had already picked a place for the pennant to be on permanent Capitol display.
The presentation followed an update on the submarine and crew by CDR Quimby, with crew members joining in answering questions asked by legislators and other attendees.
Other highlights of the Helena visit included update events in which CDR Quimby and the crew members updated audiences about what the USS MONTANA and her sailors have been doing since the commissioning last June and how the boat and crew are preparing for missions they may be called upon once they join the Pacific fleet, perhaps early next year.
Included were talks and question-and-answer sessions before Hometown Helena members and a large gathering hosted by the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce, Navy Reserve Center Helena and Montana Department of Military Affairs. Following the latter, held at the Helena Armed Forces Reserve Center, the current Leadership Helena class had an opportunity to ask their own questions, with all of this thoroughly enjoyed by the team from the USS MONTANA.
Along with audience questions, there were lots from media representatives covering the events, and in interviews.
Discussed was a wide range of topics. There was the current “maintenance availability” of the submarine at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia for work needed under warranty now that the boat has been at sea for longer periods and different types of testing and training.
There was the successful firing of the first test torpedoes by the MONTANA – and the first swim call – in the warmer waters of the Bahamas.
And, as always, there was interest in what it is like to live and work aboard a submarine for long periods of time.
The CO and crew members also toured the Montana Military Museum at Fort Harrison. Among the many excellent displays, they saw the work that is continuing with respect to Montana’s naval history, with several SSN 794 items presented to the Museum.
In Bozeman, a large update event at the Museum of the Rockies – a sponsoring partner – allowed an opportunity afterward for CDR Quimby, LT Popelka and ETNCS Frey to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum and its many Montana heritage-related items not currently able to be displayed because of space limitations and other reasons.
The Bozeman event also provided an opportunity for Senator Steve Daines to be presented with a USS MONTANA Honorary Plankowner plaque. Such plaques have evolved from pieces of olden-day sailing ship timbers that were given to a vessel’s first crew members. Senator Daines and other members of the Montana Congressional Delegation, and Governor Gianforte, who supported the MONTANA through its commissioning, are receiving the Honorary Plankowner honors.
The Montana visit was capped with a drive to Yellowstone National Park for a briefing on its operations and veterans outreach – and its importance to Montana and the nation. Highlights also included a snowy National Park Service walking tour of old Fort Yellowstone and visit to the Mammoth Hot Springs terrace.
The fascinating Yellowstone visit was made more so by experiencing more Bison along the highway to-and-from the Park than many of those accompanying the group had ever seen there.
In all, the relationship-building continued among Montanans and those serving aboard the warship bearing Montana’s name and carrying our history, culture, values and courage with them. In the near future we’ll post a separate item on some very significant and meaningful gifts presented in Helena to the USS MONTANA.
Down the road we’ll provide information on the next crew visit being contemplated – one that may focus on a couple of Montana culinary specialties, and a Montana Highway Patrol legacy.