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South Dakota celebrates commissioning of submarine

The Virginia-class attack submarine USS South Dakota travels along the Thames River at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut on Jan. 9. (Steven Hoskins / U.S. Navy photo)1 / 2
The crew of the Virginia-class attack submarine USS South Dakota (SSN 790) stands ready to assume duty during the boat's commissioning ceremony at Naval Submarine Base New London, Feb. 2, 2019. (Tristan B. Lotz / U.S. Navy photo)2 / 2

GROTON, Conn. — The USS South Dakota joined the Navy's fleet once again on Saturday, as about 1,400 people gathered to see the new nuclear submarine be commissioned into service.

The event was held at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, as the 135 sailors formally manned the ship for the first time. The new USS South Dakota is the 17th fast-attack submarine in the Virginia class, built to operate as far down as 800 feet below the surface of the water, while able to launch land-attack missiles and torpedoes.

"South Dakota was built to be on scene and unseen, forward deployed and ready to take the fight to our adversaries and protect our shores here," said USS South Dakota Commanding Officer Cmdr. Craig Litty.

The event included dignitaries from both Connecticut and South Dakota, with U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., providing the primary keynote address. He said South Dakota is immensely proud to have a state-of-the-art vessel named in its honor.

"Even though we South Dakotans live about as far away from an ocean as anyone can get, we are fiercely proud of the men and women who serve on this new submarine now and in the future, just as we are still fiercely proud of those who served on the two previous navy vessels named USS South Dakota," Rounds said.

The ceremony also remembered the two previous vessels to carry the South Dakota namesake. The first USS South Dakota, an armored cruiser served in the early 1900s. The South Dakota battleship to serve during World War II was launched in June 1941 and was considered to be the most efficient battleship during World War II. Some service members who were on the battleship USS South Dakota were in attendance on Saturday.

The modern USS South Dakota took about five years to build, and had as many as 17,000 workers during its time. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., called the USS South Dakota "America's first millennial submarine" because the work of many millenials built the vessel, and much of the new crew is serving on a submarine for the first time.

The submarine is 377 feet long, weight 7,800 tons and cost $2.6 billion to build. It is nuclear powered and can serve for 30 years without refueling. The Navy received the ship in September, called by one dignitary to be the most modern submarine in the world.

U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., speaking about his home state, said that the boat is "our boat" in three ways: a connection as South Dakota's boat, as the United States' boat and because it personifies American values.

"This boat, its builders, its crew, they all shine with an American spirit," said Johnson, of Mitchell. "As Americans, this is our boat."

Speakers also focused on the need for modern technology to protect the United States into the 21st century.

"South Dakota will soon enter the fleet with stealth, flexibility and endurance," said Commander of the Submarine Forces Vice Admiral Chas Richard. "Traveling silently through the world's oceans undetected, collecting information, preparing for battle, and if necessary, striking from the deep swiftly without warning; answering the nation's call."

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said the state's residents carry immense pride about the new submarine. The ship's crew includes Oacoma native Christopher Peddycoart, who is a senior chief culinary specialist. He supervises all food service on the boat.

"I am here to deliver a message to service members, here as governor of our state," Noem said. They are proud of you, grateful for you, remember their freedom, pray each day they are safe and always come home."

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