Bonner County Daily Bee
By HENRY NETZER
Contributing Writer | September 13, 2023 1:00 AM
For the first time in nearly 100 years, Idaho will have a naval vessel named after it.
The USS IDAHO SSN 799, is a Virginia-class, nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine. The 377-foot-long submarine, capable of diving more than 800 feet and traveling at speeds over 25 knots, is under construction at the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Conn.
This new vessel has her roots in Idaho.
The initial design for her nuclear reactor was developed and tested at the Idaho National Lab, Naval Reactors Facility near Arco, which was the first city in the world to be powered by nuclear power in 1955.
The submarine’s quieting improvements for internal and external construction were evaluated on Lake Pend Oreille by the Acoustic Research Detachment in Bayview.
Every quieting improvement for U.S. Navy submarines over the past 50-plus years has been tested and improved at the Bayview test facility.
Here’s a bit of background. Idaho has a rich relationship with the Navy, in particular the nuclear submarine force. But let’s start close to home.
We in Coeur d’Alene are familiar with Farragut State Park on Lake Pend Oreille. It’s named after Civil War Admiral David Farragut, whose famous quotation is, “D–N THE TORPEDOES, FULL SPEED AHEAD!” Farragut started his service at age 9 during the War of 1812, and at age 11, was given the assignment to bring a ship captured by the USS ESSEX into port. He progressed through the ranks with assignments in the Pacific Ocean and eventually earned full admiral during the Civil War.
Prior to being named Farragut State Park, it was the Farragut Naval Training Station where nearly 300,000 recruits were trained during World War II. At the time, it was Idaho’s largest city, population 50,000.
The Navy’s remnant of the 4,500-acre park is about 25 acres on Scenic Bay in Bayview.
Not to be left out, southeastern Idaho has a long-standing link with the Navy as well, through the Idaho National Laboratory, formerly the Idaho National Engineering Lab and the Naval Reactors Facility.
In the early 1950s, the first full-scale prototype nuclear plant for shipboard use, called S1W Prototype, was constructed to test the feasibility of using nuclear power aboard submarines. It was the predecessor to a similar nuclear plant of S2W design installed in the first nuclear-powered ship, the submarine USS NAUTILUS SSN 571.
Later, two more prototype reactor plants were built at that location where the initial reactor design for the USS IDAHO was evaluated. These are just two of the more than a half dozen Navy testing, training and maintenance facilities in our state.
Did you ever wonder why vessels are referred to as “she” or “her?” The traditional Navy answer is, “Because it cost so much to keep her in paint and powder.”
Also, why are submarines called “boats?” What’s the difference between a boat and a ship?
Again, the tradition (from who knows where) is that if you can put a boat aboard another boat, the boat you put it aboard is a ship. And, for the record, submarine sailors are sub-ma-REENE + -ers, with stress on the third syllable.
There are three major milestone events in the life of a naval vessel: Keel laying, christening (breaking the bottle and touching water for the first time), and commissioning (placed in service). The USS IDAHO’s keel was laid in August 2020 with the boat’s sponsor, Ms. Terry Stackley, welding her initials in the hull steel. The christening ceremony is the first time she’ll touch water.
A bottle of champagne is usually broken for this event. However, for the USS IDAHO, Ms. Stackley will christen her with waters from the State of Idaho (Lake Pend Oreille, Redfish Lake and Henry’s Fork). Christening is planned for late 2023 or early 2024. The commissioning will follow approximately a year later.
The crew is the life of the boat. USS IDAHO’s pre-commissioning crew is being assigned now. This is an excellent time for the members to learn, in-depth, the construction and operating details of their boat.
Fully manned, IDAHO will have 15 officers and 117 enlisted sailors with a mixed-gender crew. The crew is trained in the operation of the sophisticated sensors, the advanced reactor plant and the deployment of weapons. They will participate in sea exercises to gain proficiency in diving, surfacing, sensor employment, maneuvering, and response to casualties.
Idaho can be especially proud that one of the sailors assigned to the USS IDAHO is the grandson of Super One Foods founder, Ron McIntire.
The USS IDAHO Commissioning Foundation is a nonprofit organization headed by former Idaho governor, U.S. senator and Secretary of the Interior, the Honorable Dirk Kempthorne.
The former governor has gathered senior military and civilian associates to form an advisory board and has established an organization with nearly 100 volunteers (like myself) to serve as the state’s agent for the planning, preparation, funding, conduct of traditional and celebratory laydown, christening and commissioning activities under the guidelines of the Secretary of the Navy.
In addition, the organization plans and conducts a statewide outreach of social, informative, and educational activities to create a bond between the people of Idaho and those who serve in defense of our great state and nation on the USS IDAHO. And finally, the USS IDAHO Commissioning Foundation identifies and implements a sustainable program so that the crews of the USS IDAHO, from the first crew to all future crews and their families, see tangible ongoing support from the people of Idaho.
The Foundation is hosting the USS IDAHO Commanding Officer, Commander Randall Leslie and five crew members to North Idaho in mid-September.
In Bonner County, the crew will be at Sandpoint Community Center, 204 S. First Ave., on Monday, Sept. 18, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Kempthorne is slated to be among those at the Sandpoint event.
To learn more and become involved, please visit SSN799.org to sign up for the Foundation newsletter and see ways to support this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Henry Netzer is a captain, USNR (Ret). North Region Chair USS Idaho Commissioning Committee.