Submitted by U.S. Sens. Mark Warner & Tim Kaine, and U.S. Reps. Rob Wittman, Scott Rigell, Bobby Scott and Randy Forbes
Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), made history Saturday, laying the keel for the U.S. Navy's 12th Virginia-class submarine. While this is newsworthy in and of itself, what makes the event historic is that this attack submarine, designated SSN 785, is the first in the class to be named after a person: Virginia's own former U.S. Senator John Warner.
Few people are more deserving of such a high honor.
Warner served five consecutive terms in the U.S. Senate, making him the second longest-serving senator in Virginia's history. His service to our country actually dates back to 1945—long before his first election in 1978—when he enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17 and served one year during World War II.
Warner returned to active duty in 1950, this time serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. He continued his service with the Marine Corps Reserve, ultimately reaching the rank of captain. After earning a law degree from the University of Virginia, Warner went on to serve as Assistant U.S. Attorney (1956-1960), Under Secretary of the Navy (1969-1972) and Secretary of the Navy (1972-1974).
One could say Warner's naval service has truly come full circle. Saturday's keel-laying ceremony, in addition to reminding us how quickly the four years have passed since he retired from the Senate, is also a reminder not only of how long he served, but how well.
If the keel is the structural foundation of the ship, it is not an overstatement to say Warner was the keel for the Senate. He showed time and again his willingness to reach across the aisle and compromise on difficult issues.
Of course, Sen. Warner's work on defense issues was arguably the hallmark of his tenure in the U.S. Senate. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), he was a strong advocate for the safety and security of the United States and also for America's service men and women around the world. He was also a stalwart supporter for Virginia's military installations and defense industry. In fact, it is fitting that Warner's name is linked to a Virginia-class submarine, as he helped develop the 1997 teaming arrangement between General Dynamics Electric Boat and NNS to cooperatively build the submarines.
During Saturday's ceremony at NNS, Warner and his wife, Jeanne, chalked their initials onto a keel plate. Those chalk lines were then welded by a shipbuilder, and the keel plate will become a permanent part of the ship. Tradition holds that when Mrs. Warner fulfills her next duty as the ship's sponsor—christening the submarine with a bottle of sparkling wine— her character and personality will become a part of the ship and its crew. With a name like John Warner, we can already predict some of their many positive attributes: commitment, dependability, diplomacy and, of course, durability.
When he announced his retirement in 2007, Warner invoked Thomas Jefferson, saying: "There is a fullness of time when men should go and not occupy too long the ground to which others have the right to advance." Warner may have stepped down from public office, but when his namesake submarine is finished and joins the fleet, it will ensure that he continues to serve our country for decades to come.