Gilbert's new veterans committee aims to sponsor USS Arizona submarine

USS Arizona submarine
The Gilbert Veterans and Military Advisory Committee would like to see the town be the sponsor for the USS Arizona submarine, which is under construction. (Courtesy U.S. Navy)

The Gilbert Veterans and Military Advisory Committee would like to see the town be the sponsor for the USS Arizona submarine, which is under construction. (Courtesy U.S. Navy)

Gilbert’s newly formed Veterans and Military Advisory Committee is proposing the town be the city sponsor for the U.S. Navy’s new U.S.S. Arizona submarine.

The Arizona, a Virginia-class, fast-attack submarine, will be the newest and most advanced sub ever built, according to a letter to Mayor Jenn Daniels from the committee’s Town Council liaison, Bill Spence, and committee Chairman Les Presmyk, a former council member.

The submarine is being named after the battleship U.S.S. Arizona, which was lost in the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, resulting in the deaths of 1,177 crew members. The Navy also is naming a second Virginia-class submarine the U.S.S. Oklahoma, after another battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor.

“On the eve of Gilbert’s Centennial, we believe that our town, the largest ‘small town’ in America, represents the spirit of those heroes of the Greatest Generation,” Spence and Presmyk wrote. “In Gilbert we are proud, compassionate, committed and strong, just as the sailors on the Arizona were on that fateful Sunday morning. The fighting spirit of America rose from the waters of Pearl Harbor and united our nation. We believe that, yet again, the U.S.S. Arizona will inspire a new generation to persevere and conquer the seemingly impossible challenges of our modern world.”

Thomas Modly, who was acting U.S. secretary of the Navy, designated Nikki Stratton, granddaughter of battleship U.S.S. Arizona survivor Donald Stratton, as the ship's sponsor, but no sponsor city has been designated. Donald Stratton died Feb. 15; he was one of the battleship's final three survivors from the Pearl Harbor attack.


Spence, a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander who has served on submarines, said the sponsor city program is largely ceremonial in nature and no costs would be borne by the town. Any costs incurred for activities associated with sponsorship would be paid through fundraising. If chosen as the city sponsor, the town would coordinate with Nikki Stratton, who lives in Denver, about activities surrounding sponsorship.

The U.S. secretary of the Navy names the sponsor, which will participate in all or some of the milestones in the life of the ship, including the keel-laying ceremony, christening, commissioning and decommissioning. The submarine is not yet built.

The sponsor also may enjoy a relationship with the ship and crew. Sponsors are encouraged to maintain contact with the initial and successive captains and crew. This can be as simple as exchanging emails or holiday greetings or participating in sail-aways and homecoming events, according to http://societyofsponsorsofusn.org.

Previously, Phoenix was the sponsor city for the nuclear submarine U.S.S. Phoenix, which was decommissioned in 1998. Parts of the submarine are stored at Papago Park Military Reservation with plans to restore the parts and create a monument at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix.

Spence said that more than offering material gifts to the ship, he would like to see the town act as sponsor because of its shared values.

“Sponsoring the Arizona has benefits that extend to all of Arizona,” Spence said. “But we think Gilbert is the right place to take the lead.”

Presmyk said nearby towns may be interested in supporting the sponsorship in some ways and that Gilbert is open to those efforts.

“I just have a feeling that right now we’re a little bit ahead of the curve and that, hopefully, by being the first municipality that steps up, we will be given the priority that we deserve,” Presmyk said. “And then, we will welcome all other municipalities to work with us and make this happen.”

Presmyk said Spence’s Navy service and passion for the project made for the “perfect storm” in the committee taking this on as an initial project. Spence signaled his desire for the town to undertake sponsorship from his first council meeting after his March appointment.

“A council member who already has engaged some other retired commanders, including an admiral or two—every little bit helps,” Presmyk said. “And certainly, that the council member’s experience comes out of the submarine corps can’t hurt.”

Town Council voted to create the board May 19 and opened applications May 21, drawing 43 applications. The seven members were appointed June 16, and the committee met for the first time June 23 with the idea of sponsoring the Arizona being the only action item beyond organization.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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