Vice President Pence speaks about commitment to defense at Indiana christening

hismith@dailypress.com

Vice President Mike Pence told hundreds at the Newport News Shipbuilding yard Saturday morning that his presence at the christening of the submarine Indiana was a sign of the president's commitment to defense.

"Today marks the 100th day since President Donald Trump took his oath of office, and I took mine," Pence, an Indiana native, said. "He sent me here today on this historic occasion as a sign of his deep commitment to the armed forces of the United States of America; and to his commitment to make the strongest fighting force in the world even stronger still."

The vice president said Trump will increase defense spending in the next year to historic levels, and told the Navy sailors, officers, and their families and friends that they have the president's gratitude.

Hundreds, including U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley and Matt Mulherin, the president of Newport News Shipbuilding, gathered at the shipyard Saturday to witness the official christening of the $2 billion boat. Construction on the 377-foot long structure began in September 2012, and was done by the Newport News yard, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, and General Dynamics Electric Boat. The 16th Virginia-class attack submarine is armed with MK-48 torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles, and can be submerged for three months at a time, according to the event's program.

Tammy Laver, an engineer at Bechtel Plant Machinery in Pittsburgh, which makes parts for the subs, attended Saturday to finally see the what the final product looks like.

"We (engineers at Bechtel) don't get to see the finished product very often," Laver said. "Coming down here to see this is pretty exciting, because we get to see what our components come to support."

Virginia-class submarines are in high demand by the Navy, and can host a crew of around 135. Scott said the nuclear submarine and aircraft carriers built in Newport News are vital to the nation's security. The Navy must be well-equipped to respond to future challenges, he said.

"To ensure our nation is capable of meeting these challenges, we must continue to invest in shipbuilding and continue to build the most sophisticated, advanced ships in the world," Scott said.

The boat's crest is in the shape of the state of Indiana, and its design symbolizes the state's war memorial in Indianapolis, according to the event brochure. A banner across the crest reads, "Silent Victors," which comes from the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which is also in Indianapolis.

Diane Donald, Navy supporter and spouse, ceremonially smashed a bottle of sparkling wine across the submarine's bow Saturday morning. Donald is the boat's sponsor, and has served the Navy community for almost 40 years, the program brochure said. She previously served as president of the Dolphin Scholarship Foundation, which funds and awards scholarships for kids of submariners.

Donald lauded everyone involved with the boat's creation and future missions, and celebrated the dedication of submarine crews who deploy for months at sea and miss out on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, births and even deaths.

A submarine, "requires a special breed of sailor, and dedication to teamwork that is unprecedented," Donald said.

She also praised the unsung heroes of the Navy, including friends and family members who also support and serve the organization.

The boat will go out for testing within a couple of weeks, and will afterward be commissioned.

Smith can be reached by phone at 757-510-1663.

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