May 29, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama yesterday welcomed the Navy’s first contingent of women submariners to the White House as part of a busy Memorial Day schedule.
The 24 young women visited the White House, along with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations, as part of a “Joining Forces” initiative. The first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, started the Joining Forces campaign last year to rally Americans to honor, recognize and serve military families.
As part of the meeting, the first lady accepted Mabus’ invitation to serve as the sponsor of the future USS Illinois (SSN 786), a Virginia-class submarine — the Navy’s newest class of attack submarine — being built in Groton, Connecticut and Newport News, Virginia. Illinois is expected to join the fleet in late 2015.
In sponsoring USS Illinois, Obama joins a tradition of first lady sponsorships of Navy submarines. First Lady Laura Bush is USS Texas’ (SSN 775) sponsor and christened it in 2004; First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is USS Columbia’s (SSN 771) sponsor and christened it in 1994.
“As sponsor, the first lady will establish a special link to Illinois, her sailors, and their families that extends throughout the life of the submarine,” a White House press release says.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as sponsor of the USS Illinois,” the first lady said yesterday. “I’m always inspired by the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the Navy, as well as the families who support them. This submarine is a tribute to the strength, courage, and determination that our Navy families exhibit every day.”
“Naval tradition holds that a sponsor’s spirit and presence guide the ship and her crew throughout the life of the ship,” Mabus said. “Illinois and her crew are blessed to have such a wonderful sponsor and I am grateful Mrs. Obama accepted my invitation to serve as sponsor for this submarine.”
The first lady also serves as the sponsor for the recently commissioned Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, based in Alameda, Calif. The ship is named after Captain Dorothy Stratton, the director of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve during World War II where she oversaw 10,000 enlisted women and 1,000 commissioned officers.
In 2009, Mabus announced that for the first time in U.S. Navy history, women would be assigned to the operational submarine force.
The 24 women who met with the president and first lady were accepted into the Navy’s nuclear submarine program after completing intensive training. They are serving on ballistic and guided missile submarines throughout the Navy.