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



I apologize for these photos being so late after USS NORTH DAKOTA’s October 25th commissioning, but it simply took quite awhile to get them together and then it took me awhile to go through hundreds of photos and edit them down.

I was given an opportunity on November 1, 2013, to go on board our unfinished boat to look for a place in either the mess decks or the wardroom with enough space to accommodate a gift from us to our boat.  It was readily apparent that nothing could be given that had to hang on a bulkhead (wall) as most of those vertical surfaces were taken up by various cabinets.  But in the wardroom there is a small display case, which was big enough for a gift from us.

Our USS North Dakota Committee decided that an ideal gift for our boat from the people of North Dakota and her builders would be a sterling silver punch bowl somewhat as a replica of the very large silver punch bowl as part of the forty piece silver set given to the first USS NORTH DAKOTA in 1910.

I was in Delhi, India, in March 2014, and with the help of a travel agent found a silversmith who could make this for us.  It’s a long and rather painful story, but this photo shows the sterling silver punch bowl they built for us, and which was not seen in person by anyone from our committee until the morning of Friday, October 24, 2014.  There was no room for error as we presented it to Captain Gordon that evening at the Chairman’s Dinner.  Fortunately he and the Chief of the Boat Tim Preabt loved it “as is.”  They took control of it and it proudly rests in the display case on board USS NORTH DAKOTA.

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This silver punch bowl is about 9.5 inches high, 10 inches wide and 19 inches long.  The silver punch bowl from the 1st USS NORTH DAKOTA is 18 inches high, 19.5 inches wide and 34.25 inches long.

Unfortunately our photographer was not able to take many photos of the punch bowl at the Chairman’s Dinner , so the following photos were taken months later when he was finally able to catch up with the boat in port.  This is a view of the side with a “Grandma Moses” type of rough image and lettering.  Our one disappointment was that the silversmith had to rush completion and the lettering and images suffered.  However, it is a beautiful piece and the crew loves it!

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This image looks down into the bowl showing the eagle relief on one side.

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Another photo of the side with the image of our boat.

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Detail of the eagle on the side with the first USS NORTH DAKOTA image and lettering.

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This photo shows the presentation by Governor Jack Dalrymple of the sterling silver punch bowl at the Chairman’s Dinner on October 24, 2013.  Left to right are United States Representative Kevin Cramer, Governor Jack Dalrymple, USS North Dakota Committee Vice Chairman Bill Butcher, Captain Doug Gordon, Chairman Bob Wefald and Treasurer Kelvin Hulett.


We also gave a sterling silver gift to our beautiful Ship’s Sponsor Katie Fowler.  Unfortunately we did not get a good photo of Katie with her gift at the Chairman’s Dinner so these two photos also took several months.


This is a close up photo of the sterling silver tray Katie was given.

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I will prepare a more detailed narrative of the entire process we went though to get these gifts on made and timely received so they could be presented at the Chairman’s Dinner.


The crew of our boat received a very thoughtful and heartfelt gift from Ireland Watterud, a Girl Scout from Columbus, North Dakota.  With her own money she donated 300 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the crew of USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784)!  Here is the message to XO posted on You Tube with the photos.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity to share the story of Ireland Watterud, a Girl Scout from Columbus, ND. In her own words, please read the story of her patriotism and commitment to the crew of USS NORTH DAKOTA.

==================== Military Cookie Share Ireland Watterud Girl Scout Troop #1001

Ireland Watterud, a patriotic Girl Scout!

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Girl Scout Troop #1001 of Columbus, North Dakota

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Here is her letter to the crew:

My dad, mom, my brother, and I planned to go to the Commissioning of the USS North Dakota in May. It was moved to October and we were unable to attend.

While reading and hearing so much about the grand vessel the USS North Dakota my mom spoke to Chief of the Boat Tim Preabt and his wife (his wife and my mom graduated from the same school) and they helped me find out about who to contact and where to ship my cookies for my Military Share badge.

I decided to use my saved Quarters for Girl Scout Cookies in honor of my of my Grandpa John R. Conlin who served in the Navy during WWII from 1944-1946. My Grandpa John R. Conlin lives in Fargo, ND today with my Grandma, Mary. Both are in very good health and so grateful for the fine men aboard the USS NORTH DAKOTA today.

Thank you for protecting my freedom.

I hope they enjoy the Girl Scout Cookies from me.

In girl scouts we learn: On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law.

Ireland Watterud Columbus ND USA ====================

She also wrote this letter to the crew:

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The crew enjoyed the Girl Scout cookies!!

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Here is what the XO wrote to Girl Scout Ireland Watterud:

Ireland, it is my pleasure to tell you the men of the NORTH DAKOTA enjoyed your cookies but were more impressed with your patriotism and selfless service.

Thank you again, LCDR Cameron Aljilani, Executive Officer

She submitted this drawing nicely setting forth the boat’s motto on its crest.

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And she also enclosed this drawing from her sister.

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This article below is a slightly out of date summary of the facts and capabilities of the VIRGINIA Class submarines, of which USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-781) is the 11th and latest.  It was copied from Undersea Warfare News as of Monday, March 16th.  I(t must be from an English publication.  I have updated it as to our boat.  Enjoy!

Virginia Class Submarines

Staff, Next Big Future, Mar 14

US Navy’s total requirement is for 30 Virginia Class Attack Submarines. The Navy placed a bulk-buy contract for the first five ships and, in January 2004, placed a multiyear contract for the following five.

The Virginia-class of attack submarines surpasses the performance of any current projected threat submarine. They were designed as a cheaper alternative to the Cold War era Seawolf-class attack submarines, and are slated to replace aging Los Angeles class subs, seventeen of which have already been decommissioned.


The Virginias incorporate several innovations. Instead of periscopes, the subs have a pair of extendable “photonics masts” outside the pressure hull. Each contains several high-resolution cameras with light-intensification and infrared sensors, an infrared laser rangefinder, and an integrated Electronic Support Measures (ESM) array. Signals from the masts’ sensors are transmitted through fiber optic data lines through signal processors to the control center. The subs also make use of pump-jet propulsors for quieter operations.

The hull size is length 377ft by beam 34ft and the displacement is 7,300t dived, which is smaller than the more expensive Seawolf attack submarine with displacement 9,137t dived.

The submarine is fitted with modular isolated deck structures, for example the submarine’s command centre will be installed as one single unit resting on cushioned mounting points. The submarine’s control suite is equipped with computer touch screens.

Weapon systems

The submarine is equipped with 12 vertical missile launch tubes and four 533mm torpedo tubes. The vertical launching system has the capacity to launch 12 Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) in a single salvo. There is capacity for up to 26 mk48 ADCAP mod 6 heavyweight torpedoes and sub harpoon anti-ship missiles to be fired from the 21in torpedo tubes. Mk60 CAPTOR mines may also be fitted.

An integral lock-out / lock-in chamber is incorporated into the hull for special operations. The chamber can host a mini-submarine, such as Northrop Grumman’s Oceanic and Naval Systems advanced SEAL delivery system (ASDS), to deliver special warfare forces such as navy sea air land (SEAL) teams or Marine reconnaissance units for counter-terrorism or localised conflict operations.


Virginia is fitted with the AN/WLY-1 acoustic countermeasures system being developed by Northrop Grumman, which provides range and bearing data, along with the mast-mounted AN/BLQ-10 electronic support measures (ESM) system from Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems.

AN/BLQ-10 provides full spectrum radar processing, automatic threat warning and situation assessment.

Technology barriers

Because of the low rate of Virginia production, the Navy entered into a program with DARPA to overcome technology barriers to lower the cost of attack submarines so that more could be built, to maintain the size of the fleet.

These include:

Propulsion concepts not constrained by a centerline shaft.

Externally stowed and launched weapons (especially torpedoes).

Conformal alternatives to the existing spherical sonar array.

Technologies that eliminate or substantially simplify existing submarine hull, mechanical and electrical systems.

Automation to reduce crew workload for standard tasks

Block I

USS Virginia (SSN-774), commissioned and in service.

USS Texas (SSN-775), commissioned and in service.

USS Hawaii (SSN-776), commissioned and in service.

USS North Carolina (SSN-777), commissioned and in service.

Block II

USS New Hampshire (SSN-778), commissioned and in service.

USS New Mexico (SSN-779), commissioned and in  service.

USS Missouri (SSN-780), commissioned and in service.

USS California (SSN-781), commissioned and in service.

USS Mississippi (SSN-782), commissioned and in service.

USS Minnesota (SSN-783), commissioned and in service.

Block III

USS North Dakota (SSN-784), named July 15, 2008, commissioned on October 25, 2014 and in service.

PCU John Warner (SSN-785), named January 8, 2009, expected to be delivered April 30, 2015.


These are several photos of Master Chief Tim Preabt’s visit with the Legislature on February 9th.  I’m sorry about the delay in posting these photos.  These photos were taken by Poppy Mills, Jon Arenz and Mike McCleary.  they are not shown in any particular order.

USS North Dakota speaks to Legislators USS North Dakota USS North Dakota USS ND Chief of Boat Addressing the Legislature USS ND Chief of Boat Addressing the Legislature  USS ND Chief of Boat Addressing the Legislature Proclamation for  with Governor Jack Dalrymple


Electronics Technician master Chief Petty Officer Tim Preabt and his wife Linda completed a namesake state visit to Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota.  On Monday, February 9th, Tim was given the honor of addressing both houses of the North Dakota Legislature.  he spoke first in the Senate and then in the House of Representatives being well received in both houses.  He thanked them for all the support they and the people of North Dakota have given USS NORTH DAKOTA, and he gave each house a plank owners plaque.

Here are links to several articles  in The Bismarck Tribune:

Also on that Monday Master Chief Preabt was interviewed on the PMS Show on KFYR 550 AM Radio at 8:40 a.m. that morning by host Phil Parker.  That evening Tim gave an excellent candid talk to the annual meeting of the North Dakota Council of the Navy League of the United States.

On Tuesday, February 10th, Master Chief Preabt spoke to more Navy League members at a luncheon in Fargo.  That afternoon he was interviewed on Main Street on Prairie Public Radio.  Here is a link to that interview:

After almost 3 1/2 years as the first crew member of USS NORTH DAKOTA, in which Master Chief as Chief of the Boat (COB) supervised the training of new crew members and worked closely with Commanding Officer Captain Douglas Gordon, Master Chief Preabt completed his relief during the week of February 2nd.  He has been relieved by Master Chief Machinist Mate Todd Estes.  When we get more information about the leadership changes on board our boat we will share them with you.

CONGRATULATIONS to Master Chief Tim Preabt and having done an OUTSTANDING job as the 1st Chief of the boat of USS NORTH DAKOTA.  Well Done, Tim!  We, your fellow North Dakotans, are very proud of you!!






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