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USS North Dakota ceremony held

By Staff | Nov 7, 2013

Attending important U.S. Navy functions is not something new for Wolford couple Bob and Brenda Mitzel.

It will be hard to top the most recent, though. The Mitzels attended the christening of the USS North Dakota a week ago in Groton, Conn. The $2.6 billion, 377-foot attack submarine is the latest addition to the fleet of 11 in the Virginia class of ships.

The Mitzels received an invitation from ship sponsor, Katie Fowler and her husband, Jeffrey, a retired vice admiral and Bismarck native, who served as the 60th Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy until he retired in 2011.

Jeffrey Fowler and his father, Clem, have hunted goose and duck on the Mitzel’s land for about 35 years. The Mitzels also attended Fowler’s retirement ceremony at the academy in Annapolis, Md.

“I feel very honored any time we’re invited to these events,” Brenda Mitzel said. “It’s just very patriotic. Just being part of the special event that’s part of representing North Dakota and having this vessel protecting and working with our armed forces is amazing.”

The christening marked the first time in over 100 years that a ship was named in honor of North Dakota. The event also happened to fall on the 124th birthday of the Peace Garden state.

“It was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity and we knew we could not pass it up,” Mitzel said.

U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple spoke at the event. Brenda Mitzel said Hoeven led the gathering of about 4,000 people in singing Happy Birthday to the state.

Mitzel said one of the highlights was seeing Katie Fowler christen the ship by breaking a bottle of champagne on the hull.

“Every time I talk to Katie, I’m so proud of her,” Mitzel said. “She represented the state of North Dakota very well.”

North Dakota has the highest percentage of residents serving in the military of any state. Williston native Master Chief Petty Officer Tim Preabt is the only N.D. native serving on the USS North Dakota. The ship can launch cruise missiles, deliver special forces commandos and carry out surveillance over land and sea, according to an Associated Press report.

A coal-fired, steam-powered battleship bearing the state’s name was built in 1910 and decommissioned in 1923.

More than 1,000 shipyard craftsmen and engineers built the new ship.

“From the Arabian Sea to the polarized cap, North Dakota will operate in the harshest environments in the planet as her crew protects freedom of the seas and the interests of the United States,” submarine forces commander Vice Adm. Michael Connor said at the ceremony.

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