USS Montana crew in Great Falls, Helena for namesake visit

Three crewmembers from the under construction USS Montana have been touring the Great Falls area for several days as part of the first of three namesake visits.

They’re in town for a week letting people know they’ll be assigned to the USS Montana and to “get a taste of Montana,” which is “pretty awesome,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Rooke.

The North Carolina native is currently based in Newport News, Va., where part of the Virginia class nuclear powered submarine is being built for the U.S. Navy.

The submarine is expected to be completed sometime next year and will be only the second commissioned USS Montana. The first served during World War I.

“The USS Montana will have the ability to precisely navigate in shallower waters to come close to adversaries. She’ll be multi-mission, able to deploy and detect mines, launch Tomahawk cruise missiles against large land targets, and insert entire platoon-size Navy SEAL special operations teams into dangerous areas, all while submerged,” according to the commissioning committee.

The trio visited Gibson Reservoir, First Peoples Buffalo Jump, Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Fort Benton and the Belt rodeo, threw a pitch at the Voyagers game, met with Gov. Bullock in Helena, toured the Capitol and the Gates of the Mountains.

“People tell us Montana is great,” Rooke said. “There were a lot of things I thought I knew about Montana.”

In Great Falls, they toured Malmstrom Air Force Base and a missile alert facility.

Rooke said he was excited to learn more about the land based leg of the nuclear triad.

“I kind of geeked out about it,” he said.

Once the submarine is assembled and commissioned into service, it will be based out of Hawaii, he said.

Rooke found out he was being assigned to the USS Montana in spring 2018.

For the crew, engineers are assigned first, he said, to start learning the subs operations and maintenance, then the rest of the crew starts being assigned.

“Then when it’s done, we’ll have a fully trained crew,” he said.

Their deployments would vary depending on the operations tempo, they could be at sea for 6-8 months or shorter time periods.

“Whatever the Navy needs, we’re always ready,” Rooke said.

This was the first namesake visit and the Navy’s effort to have rapport with the cities and states when their ship bears its name.

Noerenberg said since Montana is landlocked, it also serves as outreach for the Navy to let people know about what they do and for the sailors to get to know the community “because we’ll be representing the state.”

On Saturday, the three crewmembers participated in the Lewis and Clark Festival, where the Native American drummers performed an honor song for them, which translated said “he went to war, but he came back” according to the performers, while the dancers shook their hands.