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I stand before you today humbled to join in the commissioning of this great warship-or as those in the submarine community prefer to call it, a great boat. For decades to come, USS VIRGINIA will sail beneath the oceans of the world, protecting this great nation. I know full well that each ship commissioned in the United States Navy develops its own reputation, its own tradition, and its own record. Submarines in particular; some returning to port with empty torpedo tubes and a broom displayed proudly on the sail, symbolizing a clean sweep of the enemy, and others not returning to port at all: throughout our history, this proud fleet and the sailors who man the boats have forged in battle the community’s reputation as the Silent Service, and VIRGINIA is the newest addition to that storied fleet.

Today we commission not just a new submarine, but a new class of submarine, and I want to address my remarks to the crew-those brave few who have been chosen to take this boat to sea-and to the families who will wait for their safe return. It isn’t the submarine that earns her reputation, establishes her traditions, or makes her record; it’s the crew who commissions her, and all of the crews who sail in her who make history. I envy the adventure, and the contribution to national security, that each of you as crewmembers will make in the years ahead.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, my first priority is supporting the men and women who wear the uniform of our armed forces. Our Committee is responsible for ensuring, on behalf of the Senate, that our military personnel receive the re-sources, traning, technology, and equipment that they need to accomplish their missions.

We took a major step forward just weeks ago. On October 9, Congress passed the Ronald Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005. This bill authorized more than $44 7 billion for Defense activities. Our legislation includes a 3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for all uniformed personnel, and authorizes TRICARE coverage for Reserve members who serve on extended active duty. Further, the bill authorizes a permanent increase both in family separation allowances, and in special pay for duty subject to hostile fire or imminent danger. We also authorized an increase in the Survivor Benefit Plan annuity that will be phased in over three-and-a-half years and, by 2008, eliminates the existing social-security offset system. We feel a duty to take care of our uniformed personnel, retirees and their families. It’s our duty to repay them for their sacrifice and service in the war on terror.

Just as important as the personnel benefits, our Committee authorized the procurement of the weapons and equipment that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines require to perform their dangerous missions, and return home safely. Of particular interest to all who are gathered here today, our bill authorizes the construction of eight new naval vessels, including an additional Virginia Class submarine. I look to today’s Navy leaders to continue pursuing a robust shipbuilding program to ensure that those who follow us will have the resources essential to protect the nation’s interests in the future.

VIRGINIA is a submarine, the likes of which the world has never seen. She carries with her a proud name and a distinguished line of predecessors. Like our own Commonwealth of Virginia, the state whose name she bears, and the first English Colony in America, she is the first in her class. She is the ninth naval vessel to bear her name -beginning with the frigate USS VIRGINIA commissioned in 1777, to the guided-missile cruiser USS VIRGINIA which was commissioned in 1976; and coincidentally was sponsored by my daughter, Virginia Stuart Warner.

In fact, five years ago, when I spoke at the keel-laying of this very boat at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, I recalled that I spoke at the keel-laying ceremony of the last USS VIRGINIA as Secretary of the Navy in 1972. As my daughter was the ship’s sponsor, my remarks that day focused on our collective mission to keep the peace for all our children. “My mission,” I said on that day, 32 years ago, is “to bring a generation of peace to my children, to your children, and hopefully to the children the world over.” Today, over a generation later, there is no doubt that the last ship VIRGINIA helped keep the peace, and I am confident that this newest and most powerful ship to bear her name will do the same.

The USS VIRGINIA we commission today is sponsored by Mrs. Linda Robb, a former military spouse herself and lifelong advocate for service families. I am pleased to see you here today, Linda, and also your husband, my former colleague on the Committee, Senator Chuck Robb. Linda, you follow in a tradition dating back to Phoenician times, according to which only women are asked to impart their protective spirit to vessels and the Mariners who sail on them. Mrs. Robb, the crew of this ship will always think of you as they sing that comforting verse of the Navy Hymn, ” … Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!”

This magnificent boat was built under a unique teaming arrangement between General Dynamics’ Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Newport News. Although this teaming arrangement has had its critics, according to the Navy, “VIRGINIA represents the best lead ship performance with respect to cost, schedule and quality of any submarine class since 1970, better than Los Angeles, Ohio or Seawolf.” Make no mistake about it: this construction team has performed remarkably, and remains committed to further improvements as we move forward with the deployment of this class.

This deployment will go forward in recognition of a leader who has long been a driving force in naval construction, Tom Schievelbe in of Newport News, who retires next month. This is Tom’s last commissioning as President of Northrop Grumman Newport News; although I am confident we will work with him again in the future in some exciting new capacity.

Tom and his team at Newport News, together with John Casey and his team at Electric Boat, have delivered to the Navy a remark-able vessel designed to meet head-on the challenging threats of the future. The underwater threat has changed significantly since the beginning of the last decade and the end of the Cold War. The exploits of our submarine service during the Cold War are significant, much of which can never be told. But the significant underwater, nuclear-powered threat of the Soviet submarine fleet has given way to a quiet, shallow-water, littoral threat posed by quiet diesel submarines that have proliferated around the world. VIRGINIA has been designed to counter this threat through the incorporation of the most sophisticated new technologies, coupled with speeds above 25 knots and depths in excess of 800 feet. She is truly a remarkable and proud vessel, and will doubtless prove worthy of her heritage.

Unlike submarines of the past, whose primary operation was sinking enemy vessels with torpedoes, it is not enough for a ship today to be a single mission platform. VIRGINIA is versatile. She will be able to attack land targets with Tomahawk cruise missiles. She will be able to deploy off-board vehicles and sensors, including both unmanned underwater vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles. She will contribute to all three pillars of the Sea Power 21 Vision: Sea Strike, Sea Shield, and Sea Basing.

Members of VIRGINIA ‘screw, in a few minutes; you will bring life to this boat and begin a long tradition. You will be plank-owners. Your skill, training, courage, and sacrifice will establish the tradition for this boat. We are confident that you will live up to all expectations. You deserve to be proud today-this is your day-and we are tremendously proud of you. This is a day no crewman will ever forget. Godspeed and God bless each one of you.

Thank you.

Naval Submarine League

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