NEWPORT NEWS, Va. Five cadets from MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, provided the color guard for the christening of the submarine New Jersey (SSN 796) at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipbuilding facility Saturday, joining Governor Philip Murphy and Dr. Susan DiMarco and other officials at the gala ceremony.
Cadets Dylan Agnese of Lincroft, Tessa Campolattaro of Rumson, Jack Arhanic of Fair Haven, Sam Puleio of Tinton Falls, and Brandon Weiss of Oceanport traveled to Newport News Thursday with CDR Tracie Smith-Yeoman, US Navy (Retired), the Senior Naval Science Instructor at MAST, and Senior Chief Michael Vaccarella, USN (Retired), Naval Science Instructor at MAST, for a final rehearsal of the program on Friday, returning Saturday following the ceremony and continuing their routine school schedule Monday morning.
“MAST NJROTC was so honored to be able to be part of the christening,” said Cdr. Smith-Yeoman. “Despite the high visibility of the event and the numerous high-ranking guests and television cameras, the cadets presented our Nation’s honors in a flawless manner. The christening is a huge milestone in the life of the submarine, and it is part of a long-term relationship that the cadets of MAST will have with the crew of the New Jersey. We were excited to bring Jersey pride to the shipyard and to our State’s sub and we look forward to the commissioning and to following the New Jersey’s sure-to-be-impressive career as she defends freedom around the world.”
“This wasn’t just a local, or even a state-wide event. This was an opportunity to participate in something that is now part of United States Naval history,” said MAST Principal Earl Moore, pointing out that the USS New Jersey is one of only about 35 Virginia Class Fast Attack Submarines in the US. “A ship is only christened once. That these five cadets were able to be a part of this ceremony means they are part of our nation’s history. We are very grateful to have been invited, and our cadets did not disappoint. They did an outstanding job.”
County Commissioner Lillian G. Burry, who has been a long-time friend, supporter and advocate for MAST, said, “I am not surprised this outstanding color guard of MAST cadets was selected for this honor. They approach every mission with a dedication and enthusiasm whether it is in wrapping gifts for the Zilinski Foundation, taking tests, or providing color guards or participants in parades. For them, while it was a distinct honor in which they should take considerable pride, I am sure they treated it with no more attention than they do for everything they are asked.”
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“The christening is a Navy and shipbuilder tradition that celebrates the demanding work and dedication of the women and men who are building this magnificent submarine, readying her for the next phase of construction, which includes launch, testing, sea trials and delivery to the Navy,” said Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding. “We commemorate these American builders during a challenging time in our nation’s history.” The ceremony was attended by hundreds of workers at the shipbuilding facility, together with their families, many wearing a variety of signs of pride in their work and the companies that employ them in building Navy ships.
“When New Jersey joins the Navy’s fleet, she will deliver firepower for freedom, taking with her the skill of her shipbuilders, the spirit of her sponsor, the courage of her commander and crew and the pride of her fellow New Jerseyans,” Boykin added. “These characteristics, united, forge a strong national defense that defines America.”
Dr. Susan DiMarco, Montclair, a retired dentist and wife of former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, is the ship’s sponsor and performed the traditional honor of breaking a bottle of American sparkling wine across the submarine’s bow during the ceremony. Dr. DiMarco was unimpeded by the high winds during the ceremony, prompting Boykin to comment on her strength, ability and determination. The doctor broke the bottle with such force the wine splashed all over her attire amid brought smiles from herself and applause from those in attendance.
In addressing the crowd, Dr. DiMarco noted, “As citizens today, we are more divided and disconnected from one another than at any time in our last 50 years, but the efforts that went into building New Jersey say otherwise. In order to complete this great ship, there must have been vital partnership and purpose. As a country, we are cooperative, generous and tenacious, and we can work together on exceptional ideas.”
The ceremony took place outside of Newport News Shipbuilding’s Module Outfitting Facility and was attended by more than 1,800 guests, including Newport News Shipbuilding employees who are building New Jersey, members of the submarine’s crew, Navy personnel, and other government officials, including former Secretary Johnson.
Gov. Phil Murphy was among the speakers at the ceremony, praising the numerous persons and products for which the Garden State is famous, from Springsteen to pizza and bagels. Retired U.S. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Chief of Naval Operations, provided the keynote address.
The company reached the pressure hull complete milestone in February, meaning that all the ship’s hull sections were joined to form a single, watertight unit, one of the last major milestones before the christening. Next it will be floated off to a floating dry dock for final outfitting and testing, expected within the next few weeks. It will take approximately three days and fifty-six heavy duty sets of railcar wheels to move the 7,800 ton submarine the 960 feet to the dry dock.
New Jersey is the 23rd Virginia-class submarine and the 11th to be delivered by Newport News Shipbuilding, and the first submarine designed with a modification for male and female crew integration. Construction began in March 2016 and is 82% complete. It is scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Navy in late 2022.