Happy Holidays to all the fantastic supporters of the USS NORTH DAKOTA.  From the looks of the weather reports, you’ve had quite the December snow falls out west so far.  We had one slushy day of snow that quickly turned to rain a couple of weeks ago, but since then we’ve pretty much just had a lot of rain.  With respect to the boat and the crew, here is the latest news:

In the best news of 2016, the Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) is finally over.  After 16 months of extremely hard work and long hours by the crew, PSA culminated with a highly successful week-long Sea Trials.  The crew was once again able to demonstrate their skills in operating the submarine, and the boat performed flawlessly in a wide variety of system tests and operations.  The timing was just about perfect, as the PSA completed in December just in time for the crew to take a well deserved holiday stand down.  The two-week rest period over the holidays will allow virtually all crew members to enjoy a week of leave with their families, and return to the NORTH DAKOTA ready for a very busy 2017.

As the first Block III Virginia Class submarine, the first half of 2017 will certainly be busy for the NORTH DAKOTA and her crew.  NORTH DAKOTA will be the test platform for all of the Developmental Testing and Operational Testing for the entire 8 submarine block.  After a brief installation and load out period to install test equipment and temporary systems for the testing, NORTH DAKOTA will spend most of the first half of 2017 at-sea performing acoustic testing, combat systems testing, and weapons launch testing.  Once the months of combat system testing are complete, the crew will complete a round of at-sea inspections to start the deployment preparation period, and the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 will feature the final crew and material readiness preparations for the NORTH DAKOTA’s first six month overseas deployment.

That’s about it for the news on NORTH DAKOTA right now.  I’m looking forward to getting the crew back from holiday stand down, rested and ready for 2017.  We have our holiday party coming up on January 13th, and I know the crew and MWR our very much looking forward to that event.  Hope 2016 was a great year for all of our supporters back in NORTH DAKOTA.  Best wishes for a great 2017 too.


Mike Hollenbach

Commanding Officer, USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN 784)



Our boat and her crew in dry dock at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton CT


Dear Friends of the USS NORTH DAKOTA,

Just wanted to take a few moments and pass along some updates and news from the USS NORTH DAKOTA.  The submarine and crew are looking forward to the completion of the Post-Shakedown Availability (PSA).  Although the PSA has taken longer than expected, the crew has remained in great spirits and has taken advantage of the additional time in port to complete a great deal of training (and some honey-do lists at home).  The crew has performed exceptionally on all certification and readiness examinations and is quite eager to get back underway.  2017 projects to be a very busy year for the USS NORTH DAKOTA.  Once the PSA has concluded, the crew will take the submarine through at-sea proficiency training, acoustic and magnetic trials, and weapons system operational testing to include the first-ever operational test launch of the Virginia Payload Tube.  Once the crew completes all trials and testing, the second half of 2017 will feature inspections, preparation and certification for the ship’s first full length deployment in 2018.

From a personnel standpoint, many great things continue to happen onboard USS NORTH DAKOTA.  2016 featured two of our own selected for promotion to Chief Petty Officer.  The Leading Engineering Laboratory Technician, Chief Petty Officer Reed Cozens, and the Leading Auxiliary Mechanic, Chief Petty Officer Jeffery Jordan, were the two sailors selected for this honored promotion.  These two sailors were pinned as Chief Petty Officers at Historic Fort Trumbull in New London, CT.  On a beautifully sunny day, the ceremony took place on top of the Fort, overlooking the Thames River with Electric Boat Shipyard and the USS NORTH DAKOTA in the background.  The Fiscal Year 2016 Sailor of the Year competition will be concluding shortly and I look forward to announcing the winners, as well as the next Sailor of the Quarter winners, in the coming weeks.  With 2016 coming to an end, we are also seeing the end of a period of high crew turnover onboard the NORTH DAKOTA.  The vast majority of the Plankowners have now completed their tours, and while their experience will be missed, it is an exciting time as well because the majority of the personnel that will make the 2018 deployment are now onboard and beginning to develop together.

 Thanks again for the continued fantastic support.  With the generosity of the North Dakota Committee, the television entertainment systems in the Crews Mess, Chiefs Quarters and Wardroom have all been upgraded.  The Crews Mess upgrades have been especially useful, because the new TV’s now have all the necessary inputs to link the screens together and are a huge asset for crew training and briefings.  Hope everyone out west is enjoying their fall.

All our best,

 Mike Hollenbach

Commanding Officer





Lieutenant Commander Joel Ira Holwitt

LCDR Holwitt R

Joel Ira Holwitt is the fourth Executive Officer of our boat: USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784). As such he is the second in command. He received a doctorate in history from Ohio State University in 2005. During his graduate work he wrote Execute Against Japan – The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare during World War II. It was well received as the immediate past Chief of Naval Operations and the Naval War College included it as one of the eighteen essential books in the Navy’s 2012 Professional Reading Program. I reviewed it for The Bismarck Tribune, so I will write another blog post with a link to the review when it is published.

A resident of San Antonio, Texas, Holwitt earned his commission from the U.S. Naval Academy in May 2003.  His operational assignments began as a division officer on board USS Houston (SSN 713), based out of Apra Harbor, Guam, where he completed six missions vital to national security during three Guam mission cycles in the Western Pacific.  He served his department head tour as Navigator/Operations Officer on board USS New Mexico (SSN 779), based out of Groton, Connecticut.  While his boat was in Post-Shakedown Availability at Electric Boat, he also served on temporary assignment as Navigator/Operations Officer on board USS Missouri (SSN 780).

Ashore, Lieutenant Commander Holwitt served as the Navy Fellow in the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Strategic Studies Group in Washington, DC. He subsequently served as an Assistant Nuclear Officer Program Manager at OPNAV N133 in the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, DC.

Holwitt’s personal awards include the Navy Commendation Medal (two awards), the Army Commendation Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (three awards). He has served on board units that earned the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Navy “E” ribbon, and the Navy Expeditionary Medal.

He and his wife, the former Avery Moss of East Lyme, Connecticut, have four children, Lance, Gavin, Viviane, and Alexandra.  In his book Holwitt writes, “I am truly fortunate to have gotten to know the legendary Captain Slade Cutter and his kind wife, Ruth, as well as Captain Lee Moss, his wonderful wife, Holly, and their exuberant daughter Avery.  They inspired and mentored me as I began my journey as a naval officer and a naval historian.  And more importantly, no one could have imagined that I would be eventually married to that gorgeous and still-exuberant daughter!  I can’t wait to meet her and him.


Two members of the crew of our boat USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784) made a namesake visit to our state this the week of July 11th -15th, 2016.  Ensign Dennen Miner, Supply Corps:


and Machinist Mate Second Class Robin Brooks Anderson:


The USS North Dakota Committee hosted these men.  Dave Johnston, a USS North Dakota Committee member and President of the North Dakota Council of the United States, and Navy League members Dave Rice and Jerry Rostad, made all of the arrangements for their visit in Fargo.  The events included on air interviews with Joel Heitkamp of News and Views on the Mighty 790 KFGO AM and with Scott Hennen on What’s On Your Mind on KFYR 550 AM Radio.  They also were interviewed by the Forum of Fargo resulting in this story picked up by Undersea Warfare News:

USS North Dakota Nuclear Submarine Crew Visit North Dakota
Helmut Schmidt, Forum, July 13
FARGO – Two crew members of the USS North Dakota have surfaced in Fargo.
Ensign Dennen Miner and Machinists Mate Auxiliary 2nd Class Robin Anderson are the latest members of the nuclear-powered attack submarine’s crew to make a “namesake trip” to the state to foster better relations and meet people.
They’re diving into a whirlwind tour of the Fargo area.
“I’m just excited to be able to see various aspects of the state itself. I’ve never been to North Dakota,” Anderson said Tuesday, July 12. “It’s beautiful here.”
Miner looks forward to seeing the home of the North Dakota State University Bison football team.
“I’m a big football guy. So having watched NDSU really dominate football for the past couple years, It’s really exciting for me to see the football center and the college itself,” Miner said.
Miner has also been charmed by the green of the Red River Valley.
“I was impressed flying low over the farmlands,” he said. “You just look out. They really do mean strength from the soil when you look at North Dakota. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Tuesday consisted of stops at various media outlets, closing the day out by throwing out the first pitch at a  Red Hawks baseball game.
Wednesday, July 13, will include trips to farms and NDSU’s agricultural research departments, and a trip to the Microsoft campus to see one of the city’s technology centers.
Anderson reported to the USS North Dakota in November 2012 when it was half assembled. He is an auxiliary mechanic and deals with all systems outside of the nuclear propulsion system.
His division is responsible for more than 7,000 pieces of equipment “and we are expected to be the systems experts,” Anderson said. “We are system experts in seawater systems, high-pressure and low-pressure air systems, hydraulics, plumbing potable water, diesel engine, atmosphere purification and oxygen generation.”
Miner came aboard in November 2015. He’s the second supply officer for the ship. He’s responsible for food, fuel, spare parts and all the other items that are needed to keep the crew and vessel operating efficiently.
Anderson is originally from the Denver area. In his 20s, he attended several colleges and tried starting a music career in Nashville, Tenn., worked as a sheriff’s deputy, and later became an emergency medical technician. He joined the Navy in April 2012.
Minor grew up in Norfolk, Va., the son of a Navy submariner.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a law degree from the College of William and Mary School of Law in Williamsburg, Va., then spent time as a prosecutor, before deciding that law was not the life for him.

Other events included throwing out the 1st pitch at the Red Hawks baseball game.

They also spoke to the 3rd Quarter Membership Meeting of the North Dakota Council of the Navy League.  President Dave Johnston welcomed them.


Navy Leaguers enjoyed their remarks at their noon luncheon meeting.






Commander Mike Hollenbach, the Commanding Officer of USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784), has given us an update about our boat.  He reports she is in the hands of General Dynamics Electric Boat at the shipyard in Groton CT where she is undergoing Post-commissioning Shipyard Availability to get her equipped with all of the latest updates before she returns to the active Navy and real world assignments.

Commander Hollenbach writes: “The onset of 2016 has definitely provided some busy times for the NORTH DAKOTA.  For starters, we continue to experience a rather large and dramatic turnover of crew members, especially in the Wardroom and Chief’s Quarters.  Over a typical submarine life cycle, it is desired to space out the rotation of crew members so that about 25-35 percent of the crew turns over each year.  However, it takes a while to achieve the desired balance.  With NORTH DAKOTA still being relatively close to the Commissioning, many of our crew members reported right around the same time.  This means they are all due to rotate around the same time and it will take another year or two to stagger out all the reliefs and achieve the optimum rotation.”  He notes “It is a huge testament to the success of NORTH DAKOTA that so many of our officers are continuing with their Naval careers and will do great things in the future.”

As for other events in the Groton area Commander Hollenbach writes “the annual Dolphin Scholarship fundraiser was held last week.  The dress up theme for the event was Mad Men – 60’s Cocktail Party.  I have attached several photos of the NORTH DAKOTA from the event.”

Wardroom members at the event:


Left to Right: LTJG Mike Vongonten, LTJG Brian Acquaviva, LTJG Greg Pavone, LTJG Saverio Maldari, LT Brad Bersin, ENS Dustin Miner, LT Jim Kelly, LCDR Cameron Aljilani (XO), CDR Mike Hollenbach (CO), LTJG Dave Mann, LT Justin McCorkle

Wardroom, CPO Quarters attendees and all the spouses/dates (too many to name):


Commander Hollenbach notes the next large event in Groton is the Annual Submarine Birthday Ball, which will be held in the Grand Ballroom at Foxwoods Casino on April 2nd.




Someone has asked me who needs a 1st coin.  If you have one you would like to sell this person let me know.



Our USS North Dakota Committee is closing out all of the commemorative merchandise we had to build up to the commissioning of our boat USS NORTH DAKOTA (USS-784) last October 25, 2014.  The only merchandise we have left are commemorative coins.  As you know we ordered four different commemorative coins, quite a few in bronze and a limited number of each in Sterling silver.  This photo is of all four coins in bronze, with the 5th coin all by itself being the reverse side of all four coins.


The 1st coin has the crest of the 1st USS NORTH DAKOTA (BB-29).  The 2nd coin has the image of our beautiful Ship’s Sponsor, Katie Fowler.  The 3rd coin has the crest of the 2nd USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-74).  The 4th coin has the image of the Commissioning Pennant noting our boat’s commissioning date of October 25, 2014.  The reverse side of all four coins has the image of our boat with the North Dakota state flag in the background.  These coins originally sold for $20 each, but we are now selling sets of all four coins for $15.  We have 59 sets left.

On the Sterling coins we only have 35 of the 3rd coin and only 42 of the 4th coin left.  These originally sold for $100 each, but we are selling them at the close out price of $50 each. 

This a photo of the 3rd coin in Sterling silver:


This is a photo of the 4th coin in Sterling silver:


We sold quite a few coins in Dickinson on Tuesday, January 26th, at the Dickinson Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute.  This is photo of me, Bob Wefald, selling coins after the ASPI meeting: