Navy & Shipyard Christens Submarine NEW MEXICO

On Saturday, December 13, 2008, submarine NEW MEXICO was officially christened at Newport News, Virginia. Witnessed by 2,000 guests and shipyard workers, the celebration was a first in history for a Navy submarine – an indoor ceremony. It was hosted by Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in its 10-story Module Outfitting Facility (MOF). NEW MEXICO’s bow was decorated in stars and stripes and red, white and blue bunting ran the length of the hull along a temporary top rail.

The Sponsor’s Dinner for 200 VIPs on Friday evening at Mariner’s Museum honored the official christening party and featured an ice sculpture of NEW MEXICO breaking the surface (emergency blow), red and white wines from Gruet Winery of Albuquerque, souvenir drinking glasses, mint New Mexico quarters, a preview of Native American flute music by the Jeff Ball Band, and gift presentations.

Shipyard photographers Ricky Thompson, John Whalen and Chris Oxley tried their best to capture overall views of our namesake sub, now 85% complete, but at 377 feet in length, she extended the length of the MOF. Even on the 4th floor, only a fish-eye view could show the hull from end to end.

Chairs were lined up along the port side, with assigned center seating for VIPs and with the rest of the audience sitting on oblique angles fore and aft. Above the platform the black hull was emblazoned “NEW MEXICO SSN 779.” Most of the crew stood in formation “four deep” in front of the rudder and stern planes throughout the ceremony. Not to be forgotten were the dozen or so crew members inside the hull, standing watch.

As guests arrived, they were given miniature New Mexico state flags by Boy Scout volunteers and on their seats guests found ceremony programs, ship’s crest lapel pins, cache covers and other souvenirs. A 34-foot diameter banner, that covered a hull section during the April 12th keel ceremony, served as a backdrop for the Fleet Forces Band.

UNM NROTC provided the Color Guard and executed an excellent parade of colors. Under the leadership of SSgt Don Johnson, the color guard was composed of four midshipmen: Morgan Moore (USN), Christopher Derego (USN), Jeff Reilly (USMC) and Christopher Merrick (USMC).

Platform guests included Cindy Giambastiani (Ship’s Sponsor), her husband ADM Ed Giambastiani, USN-Ret, their daughter Catherine McElroy (Matron of Honor), Mike Petters (Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding President), John Casey (GDEB President), Matt Mulherin (NGNN General Manager & Sector Vice President), ADM Kirk Donald (Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion), Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM), Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA), Mike Cerletti (NM Cabinet Secretary for Tourism), VADM Jay Donnelly (Commander, Submarine Force), Ms. Allison Stiller (Deputy Assistant SECNAV for ship programs), RADM Cecil Haney (Director, Submarine Warfare), CDR Mark Prokopius (CO, PCU New Mexico), RDML William Hilarides (PEO Subs), RDML Bruce Grooms (Commander, Sub Group Two) and LCDR Andrew Nelko (Chaplain).

Heather Wilson delivered the keynote address which featured a salute to New Mexico’s WWII submarine veterans. She presented a flag, flown over the U.S. and New Mexico capitols, to CDR Prokopius. Battleship NEW MEXICO BB-40 veterans Leonard Hart, George Smith and George Herder were recognized during the ceremony. Also recognized was Emilee Sena, who created the winning design during the statewide ship’s crest design contest.

With a mighty two-handed swing, Cindy G smashed a bottle of sparkling wine amidships, as red, white and blue balloons dropped from the ceiling, and New Mexico was officially christened.

At the end of the ceremony, guests were treated to several musical performances by the Jeff Ball Band. Seated directly in front of the band were Peter Pino, Zia Pueblo Tribal Administrator, and his wife Stella.

Spectacular posters were available for all attendees. Invitations and ceremony programs featured Shiprock, a New Mexico icon. The shipyard did New Mexico proud with a most colorful, informative program - uniquely New Mexico in every respect.

The New Mexico Contingent (Photo by Richard Hale)

The christening of NEW MEXICO marks another construction milestone in our namesake submarine’s 5-year journey to completion. After a January launch into the James River, the $2.3B submarine moves to the shipyard’s Pier 6 for final outfitting and testing. She is on schedule for sea trials in July and for delivery in August, eight months early, and on budget. When NEW MEXICO is commissioned into the fleet in October, she will be the most technologically advanced submarine in the world.