As part of the Joining Forces initiative to honor, recognize and serve military families, today at the White House President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with the U.S. Navy’s first contingent of women submariners to be assigned to the Navy’s operational submarine force. In 2009, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that for the first time in Navy history, women would be assigned to the submarine force. The 24 women who met with the President and First Lady today were accepted into the Navy’s nuclear submarine program after completing an intensive training program. They are serving on ballistic and guided missile submarines throughout the Navy. A photograph of the President, First Lady, Defense Secretary Panetta, Secretary Mabus and the women submariners can be found at this LINK.
As part of the visit to the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama accepted Secretary Ray Mabus’ invitation to serve as the sponsor of the future USS Illinois (SSN 786). Illinois is a Virginia-class submarine, the Navy’s newest class of attack submarine, and is being built in Groton, Connecticut and Newport News, Virginia. Illinois is expected to join the fleet in late 2015. In sponsoring USS Illinois, the First Lady joins a tradition of First Lady sponsorship of U.S. Navy submarines. First Lady Laura Bush is USS Texas’ (SSN 775) sponsor and christened it in 2004; First Lady Hillary Clinton is USS Columbia’s (SSN 771) sponsor and christened it in 1994. As sponsor, the First Lady will establish a special link to Illinois, her Sailors, and their families that extends throughout the life of the submarine.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as sponsor of the USS ILLINOIS,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “I’m always inspired by the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the Navy, as well as the families who support them. This submarine is a tribute to the strength, courage, and determination that our Navy families exhibit every day.”
“Naval tradition holds that a sponsor’s spirit and presence guide the ship and her crew throughout the life of the ship,” said Secretary Mabus. “Illinois and her crew are blessed to have such a wonderful sponsor and I am grateful Mrs. Obama accepted my invitation to serve as sponsor for this submarine.”
First Lady Michelle Obama also serves as the sponsor for the recently commissioned Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, based in Alameda, California. The Coast Guard ship is named after Captain Dorothy Stratton, the director of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve during World War II where she oversaw 10,000 enlisted women and 1,000 commissioned officers.