I am happy to introduce USS NORTH DAKOTA’s new leadership team.  With the July 23rd change of command NORTH DAKOTA’s new leadership team is in place.  Commander Michael P. Hollenbach is the Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Commander Cameron M. Aljilani is the Executive Officer (XO) and Machinist Mate Weapons Master Chief Todd L. Estes is the Chief of the Boat (COB).

         Commander Hollenbach

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Lieutenant Commander Aljilani

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Master Chief Estes

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The Commanding Officer’s job is to run the entire boat and carry out the orders of our National Command Authorities.  He is responsible for the boat, its crew, its mission and its safe navigation.

The Executive Officer’s job is to carry out the orders of the Commanding Officer, supervise the administration of the boat, handle all personnel matters, make sure the daily routine of the boat is properly executed and take care of the paperwork.

The Chief of the Boat is responsible for carrying out the orders of the Commanding Officer, managing all of the enlisted personnel, making sure the daily routine and jobs of all hands is properly and timely executed, and representing the crew to the Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer.

All three leaders train and exercise the entire crew making sure our boat is ready to successfully handle any task assigned.

Commander Hollenbach was raised in Washington State and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1997.  His entire career has been in submarines including tours on the USS FLORIDA (BLUE) (SSBN 728), SUBMARINE NR-1 and USS MIAMI (SSN 755).  He and his wife Sara have a son and a daughter.

Lieutenant Commander Aljilani is a native of Anaheim, California, and a graduate of California State University, Fullerton.  He received his commission from Officer Candidate School in 2001.  He has served on HELENA (SSN 725) and USS BUFFALO (SSN 715).  He and his wife Brooke have a son and a daughter.

Master Chief Estes was born in Waterbury CT, and he entered the Navy through the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, IL in 1992 and then completed Basic Enlisted Submarine School in Groton, CT.  He has served on USS ALBANY (SSN-753), USS ANNAPOLIS (SSN-760) and USS SPRINGFIELD (SSN-761).  He and his wife also have a son and a daughter.


Today’s issue of the Undersea Warfare News republished this article:

Virginia Attack Submarines Still Restricted As NAVSEA Investigates Questionable Welding, Rest of Fleet Cleared

Sam LaGrone, USNI News, Aug 18

Naval Sea Systems Command has isolated a series of questionable welds to the Navy’s three newest Virginia-class attack boats and has cleared the rest of the fleet for normal operation, a NAVSEA spokeswoman told USNI News on Tuesday.

The supplier of the piping that connects the nuclear reactor to the submarines’ propulsion systems is alleged to have made “unauthorized and undocumented weld repairs had been performed on the fittings” used on USS Minnesota (SSN-783), USS North Dakota (SSN-784) and USS John Warner (SSN-785).

“The Navy has determined that fittings provided by this supplier are installed on ships throughout the fleet,” read a NAVSEA statement provided to USNI News on Tuesday afternoon.

“The Navy has concluded that ships operating with these fittings are safe to continue operations.”

However the three newest Virginia-class boats remain pier side as the investigation continues.

The supplier was not named by NAVSEA but Defense News reported earlier this month the company was Florida-based Nuflo.

Virginia shipbuilder General Dynamics Electric Boat discovered the suspicious welding which prompted the subsequent investigation.

The ongoing look was not related to one mounted last year over third party components found in the bow and the stern of North Dakota.

NAVSEA did not give USNI News a timeline as to when the three sidelined boats would be cleared for operations.

The following is the complete Aug. 18, 2015 statement from NAVSEA.

As part of an ongoing investigation into a quality issue, General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) determined that some pipe fittings provided by a supplier required additional testing and repair because unauthorized and undocumented weld repairs had been performed on the fittings.

The Navy has determined that fittings provided by this supplier are installed on ships throughout the fleet. Submarines USS MINNESOTA (SSN 783), USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN 784), and USS JOHN WARNER (SSN 785) were restricted from operation based on information pertaining specifically to the fittings installed on these ships. No other ships have been restricted from operations. The Navy has concluded that ships operating with these fittings are safe to continue operations. The Navy is taking action to ensure that ships currently under construction or maintenance only install fittings that meet the Navy’s quality requirements.

The Navy is committed to ensuring the safety of its crews and ships.

Fortunately NORTH DAKOTA will be undergoing a previously scheduled post-commissioning availability at General Dynamics Electric Boat who she was built to install any necessary upgrades.  Even though she is brand new, she was built under a contract signed about ten years ago.  Just like when you build a house, any change orders really up the final cost.  Thus the Navy wisely requires the contractors to build the boats to the specifications in the contract.  When a boat is delivered to the Navy after successful sea trials its ten-year old technology might be out of date so a short return to the shipyard can get all of the latest improvements installed so a boat can joint the fleet fully up to date.


On Thursday, July 23, 2015, at the U.S. Naval Base in Groton CT the first Change of Command of our boat USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784) was held.  It was a great Navy day!  Captain Doug Gordon was relieved by Commander Mike Hollenbach.  Captain Gordon had a long and very successful tenure as Commanding Officer of PCU (Pre Commissioning Unit) and later USS (United States Ship) NORTH DAKOTA as he was assigned in December 2009.  Captain Gordon was involved in monitoring all aspects of the boat’s construction while assembling and training her crew.  When our boat went out for sea trials she achieved the highest score ever given on an INSERV Inspection, and she did that with a crew in which more than half of them had never been to sea on a submarine.  Captain Gordon’s next assignment will be at the Allied maritime Command in Northwood, England.  Commander Hollenbach’s most recent submarine was as Executive Officer of USS MIAMI (SSN- 755).

Here are some photos from the Change of Command:

The crew assembled.


Our Ship’s Sponsor Katie Fowler with her husband Bismarck’s own Vice Admiral Jeff Fowler.


The dry dock shelter can be seen as the boat was just back in port after its historic and very successful launch and recovery of an Underwater Unmanned Drone.


Captain was decorated for his successful command tour.


In the best Navy tradition. “I relieve you, Sir.”,  “I stand relieved.”


Rear Admiral (soon to be Vice Admiral) Rick Breckenridge was the guest speaker.  He is a real friend of our boat and of the great state of North Dakota.


Our USSND Committee delegation. L to R Kelvin Hulett, Sr., our guest, Kelvin Hulett, Bill Butcher, Annie Bergrud, Bob Wefald.


Captain Doug and Christine Gordon are off to their next assignment in England.




Our boat USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784) made history during a cruise in the Mediterranean when it successfully launched and recovered an Underwater Unmanned Drone!  Here are a few links to stories.  This first one appeared in Stars and Stripes:

The first three articles in this morning’s edition of Undersea Warfare News also reported this success:

On Thursday the Change of Command will take place in Groton CT.


Commander Michael P. Hollenbach, USN, the prospective Commanding Officer of USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784) made a namesake visit to North Dakota over memorial Day sponsored by the USS North Dakota Committee.  He had a full schedule of activities meeting people and talking about his new boat which he will command following a Change of Command ceremony on July 23rd at the US Naval Base in Groton, Connecticut.  It was a great chance for him to get to know North Dakota and to meet some North Dakotans, and for us to get to know him.

His Memorial Day in Bismarck started out with the “8:10 Phone Call” on the PMS Show on KFYR 550 AM Radio.


Commander Hollenbach met Bismarck’s mayor Mike Seminary as the Bismarck All Veterans organizations memorial Day observances were about to get underway at the Heritage Center.

Bismarck mayor & Mike

Commander Hollenbach did a great job as the Memorial Day keynote speaker and his remarks were well received.

Memorial Day speaker

He also attended the Memorial day ceremony at the State Veterans Cemetery as well as a picnic that afternoon at Fort Lincoln State Park.

On Tuesday he had another busy day beginning with an interview with KXMB TV in the Heritage Center by the silver service from the 1st USS NORTH DAKOTA (BB-29).

KXMC interview

Here is a link to that story:

At noon he spoke to the Bismarck Kiwanis Club and answered lots of good questions.

Kiwanis Club speech

At 3:00 p.m. from the Bismarck studio of Prairie Public Radio he was interviewed for about 12 minutes by Doug Hamilton, the host of “Main Street.”  His last event was attending and speaking at the 2nd Quarter membership meeting of the North Dakota Council of the Navy League of the United States.  He met up with Captain Duane Sand and his wife Holly with whom he had served as a junior officer on his 1st submarine tour on board USS FLORIDA (SSBN-728 – now SSGN).  Captain Sand at the time was a Lieutenant Commander serving as Navigation Department Head.

Duane Holly Mike

Commander Hollenbach told of his excitement of being chosen to serve as NORTH DAKOTA’s second Commanding Officer and he answered questions.

Navy League speech

Navy League North Dakota Council Bob Wefald, retired Public Service Commissioner Susan Wefald and east region Vice President Dave Johnston welcomed Commander Hollenbach to our Navy League meeting.

Navy League dinner

Commander Hollenbach made a great impression on those he met and spoke to, and he leaves the namesake of his boat with the close and strong ties which will be ensure a continuing great relationship between our boat and its namesake!


Commander Michael P. Hollenbach will make a namesake visit to North Dakota over Memorial Day.  He is expected to relieve Captain Douglas V. Gordon as Commanding Officer of USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784), which ceremony is tentatively set for Thursday, July 23rd at the US Naval base in Groton, Connecticut.   Commander Hollenbach is on the left below and Captain Gordon is on the right.  This is Commander Hollenbach’s first namesake visit while Captain Gordon has made several namesake visits to North Dakota.

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I say the Change of Command it “tentatively set” for July 23rd, but no definite decision has been made as of yet.  Mainly because USS NORTH DAKOTA is currently deployed and is not expected to return to the Naval Base in Groton CT until mid to late July.

I understand NORTH DAKOTA’s deployment is a rare privilege for a newly commissioned submarine.  Normally all newly commissioned submarines operate in a training mode for several months followed by a period of time back in the shipyard to be updated.  You would think a brand new submarine would be fully up to date when commissioned, but the Navy requires the shipyards to build submarines exactly as specified in the contract that was signed at least 8 years before each boat is commissioned.  I suppose it is like building a new house – once you start making changes the ultimate cost goes way up.  Therefore the Navy has the boats train and operate for several months so it can be seen what updates are required.  After that they can deploy on active Navy assignments.

But USS NORTH DAKOTA since it did such a good job coming out of the shipyard and earning the highest score ever given on what is called an INSERV Inspection, so I think this three-month deployment is a reward for excellent work.

I understand that Captain Gordon’s next assignment will be in London, England.  Two other leadership changes have already taken place.  Lieutenant Commander Cameron Aljilani  relieved Lieutenant Commander Kristopher A. Lancaster as Executive Officer while Machinist Mate Master Chief Petty Officer Todd L. Estes relieved Electronics Technician Master Chief Petty Officer Timothy A. Preabt as Chief of the Boat.  Tim is now the Command Master Chief at the Recruiting Command in Denver CO.  I am still waiting for their official photos and bios, but they have been very busy.

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The navy uniform for this part of the country changes to summer whites on May 27th, so I thought I would include a photo of him in whites.

Commander Hollenbach was raised in Washington State and graduated with distinction from the United States Naval Academy in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

His sea duty assignments include a junior officer tour on the USS FLORIDA (BLUE) (SSBN 728), where he completed six strategic deterrent patrols and served as the Reactor Controls Assistant, Tactical Systems Assistant and Damage Control Assistant.  USS FLORIDA is a ballistic missile equipped submarine.  Unlike attack boats since they stay deployed for long periods of time they have two complete crews – the BLUE crew and the GOLD crew – that rotate on deployment every 90 days.  Commander Hollenbach served as the Engineer Officer onboard SUBMARINE NR-1 and as the Executive Officer aboard USS MIAMI (SSN 755).

Ashore, Commander Hollenbach has served as a Company Officer at the United States Naval Academy, attended the U.S. Naval War College, and served as both a Senior Analyst and Executive Assistant on the Joint Staff in the J8 Directorate.  Commander Hollenbach holds Master’s Degrees in Leadership and Human Resource Development from the Naval Postgraduate School, Engineering Management from Old Dominion University, as well as National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.

Commander Hollenbach is entitled to wear the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal with four gold stars, the Navy Achievement Medal and various other unit and personal awards.

He is married to the former Heather May of Arnold, MD.  They reside in Ledyard, CT with their son, Ryan and daughter, Sara.


Our Ship’s Sponsor Katie Fowler had a painting commissioned and painted by her long time artist friend Becky Pugh.  Katie presented this picture of the Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park to Captain Gordon for our boat.

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Wallace “Butch” Thunderhawk, Jr., a noted artist and enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, made this crossed tomahawks sculpture.  Under the leadership of Scott Davis, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, this sculpture was commissioned and presented by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Three Affiliated Tribes, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, the Spirit Lake Nation and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation.  This photo shows it proudly displayed on the forward bulkhead (wall) of the mess decks.


These crossed six shooters were presented to the crew at their ship’s party on the evening of Saturday, October 25th, following our boat’s commissioning.  They were presented by the Legionnaires of American Legion Post No. 290 of New Town.  Here they are shown as proudly displayed on our boat.

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A group from New Town went out on the tickets they had already purchased for the postponed May 31st original commissioning date.  While they were there they presented the boat and its crew with a Sacred Eagle Feather and a large jacket patch they created to celebrate the commissioning of our boat.  The crew had both items nicely framed, and they are displayed on our boat.

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The North Dakota Council of the Navy League of the United States was involved in supporting both the christening and the commissioning of the second Navy warship named for our state USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784).  In this photo the Navy League National President James Offutt is shown presenting a silver tray to Captain Gordon.


These are the buttons the North Dakota Council of the Navy League gave to people at the christening and commissioning.

Naby League buttons



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