North Dakota rolled out the red carpet Thursday to welcome the commander of what will be the U.S. Navy's 11th Virginia Class nuclear submarine, the USS North Dakota.
Cmdr. Douglas Gordon was in Bismarck for a luncheon and reception that were attended by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Gov. Jack Dalrymple, among others.
The event, hosted by the USS North Dakota Committee, gave Gordon and his wife, Christine, their first opportunity to visit his new boat's namesake.
Retired district court Judge Robert Wefald, a Navy veteran, chairs the committee that has been behind the push to have a second naval vessel named for the state.
The first ship, also the USS North Dakota, was a battleship in service during World War I that ultimately was used for target practice.
"I can't tell you what a big deal this is for North Dakota," Wefald said.
The 377-foot long attack class submarine is not officially the USS North Dakota yet, but will gain the designation when it is commissioned in the spring of 2014, Gordon said.
The nuclear-powered submarine will be able to dive to depths of greater than 800 feet, have a top speed of about 25 knots (29 mph) and have a 33-year lifespan before it needs refueling.
Gordon said right now the boat is being built over a 60-month timeframe in nine separate segments and will have a crew of 135 sailors, 15 of which will be officers.
One of those officers, the chief-of-boat, or COB, is Tim Preibt, a Mandan High School graduate.
Preibt is the highest ranking enlisted member of the crew and Gordon said he will serve as "my right-hand man."
Gordon said Preibt's North Dakota roots are an asset for both the officers and crew of boat, but his naval experience will be his biggest asset.
"It's his second COB," Gordon said. "He's been there and done that."
Gordon said the Virginia class submarines are faster, quieter and have more advanced technology than do the Los Angeles class boats they are replacing.
One difference to the eye, he said, is the absence of a conventional tube-type periscope in favor of what are called photonic masts.
The two photonic masts are located outside the pressure hull and contain high-resolution cameras along with other sensors that transmit images and data to a control center.
At $2 billion per boat, Gordon said they are less costly than the Seawolf class attack submarines that were built during the Cold War era.
Gordon said the typical deployment of the USS North Dakota at sea would be about six months.
A graduate of Auburn University, Gordon's last duty was as the executive officer on the USS Sante Fe, an Los Angeles class submarine launched in 1992.
Gordon said in his 20-year naval career, he has not experienced the level of support for the commissioning of a vessel.
"I have been incredibly awed by the effort from North Dakota," he said.
"Truly, I have not seen this kind of generous support before."
Gordon said he spoke with Preibt prior to his trip to Bismarck and asked if there was anything he wanted him to bring back.
Preibt's request was for some lefse, although Gordon's pronunciation of the traditional Norweigan treat was a bit off.