More than 70 Minnesotans touring one of the most advanced submarines in the world on Friday could tell it was special simply by its name: USS Minnesota.
On Saturday, the U.S. Navy’s new $2 billion submarine will be commissioned in Norfolk, Va., officially joining its active fleet, the first vessel to bear Minnesota’s name since 1907. It’ll be a historic day to the hundreds of people in attendance, especially the dozens of Minnesota submarine veterans, legislators and military buffs honoring the crew and ship that pays homage to the Land of 10,000 Lakes — from Twins and Wild signs in the mess to a Vikings logo designed by a Roseville teen.
“All of us from the state of Minnesota should be honored,” said state Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer, a retired Navy lieutenant commander. “We should feel a bond with that ship.”
It’s the third time in the state’s history that it has had a naval ship named after it. The first was a Civil War wooden steam ship built in 1855, followed by a World War I battleship sold for scrap in 1924.
The fast-attack submarine features sophisticated surveillance capabilities and a torpedo room drilled out of titanium for special operations forces. It will do extended undersea missions and close-in operations near coastlines in its planned 33-year life. It weighs 7,800 tons, and it’s as long as the distance from home plate to the left center field wall at Target Field.
Leidiger said the submarine is a chance to honor its four Minnesota sailors and other Minnesotans serving on surrounding ships in the Virginia pier he toured Friday with about 30 state and U.S. lawmakers in a bipartisan delegation.
“This is really all about people from Minnesota paying our respects to our men and women in service,” he said.
Not every state will get a ship named after it. Minnesota is the 10th of the Virginia class of 30; neighboring North Dakota will be the namesake of the Navy’s next submarine commissioned next year.
Five years ago, the Navy chose Minnesota to honor the state’s citizens for their support of the military, said spokesman Tim Hawkins. “Minnesota has a long tradition of honoring its military members,” he said.
The trip has allowed Jakob Bartels, 18, of Roseville, to honor not just his family members with military connections, but one of his ancestors who served as a commander on the Minnesota Civil War ship. He created the submarine’s logo, which features a Viking, a walleye on the hull of the submarine and the Latin inscription, “From the North, Power.”
On Thursday, he got to see how popular it was, marking the submarine’s mugs, books, suits — even tattooed on one of the crew members. He’ll be recognized Saturday, where he’ll receive a $1,500 college scholarship.
But Saturday’s event wasn’t without controversy.
Some state legislators pushed last session to include $200,000 for the Navy League of the United States Twin Cities Council to fund parts of the commissioning events. But it got removed from the bill.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Brian Skon of St. Michael, a Navy enthusiast who heads the council.
They raised money to organize special events for the 135 crew members, including plaques with Bartel’s logo and a piece of wood mantling from the World War I Minnesota battleship, given by a Princeton family who had passed it down over the generations.
“It’s an honor,” Skon said. “This is our one time to say thank you to these guys.”