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Nuclear submarine Sub USS Minnesota commissioned

Sailpors who will be serving on the submarine lined up. (Submitted photo)1 / 3
Don and Judy Henderson were among the invited guests. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Captain John Fancher, far left, welcomed Dick and Connie Kovala, left, and Harvey Harvala, second from right, and their families to the U.S.S. Minnesota. (Submitted photo)3 / 3

By Anna Erickson

and Paula Quam

Several area residents were invited to an experience of a lifetime at the commissioning of the USS Minnesota.

“My husband Don and I were proudly present. Capt. John Fancher is our

son-in-law, married to daughter Amy,” said Judy Harvala Henderson.

She made the trip to the commissioning Sept. 7 with Harvey Harvala, of Osage, his daughter Joanne Costello of Minnepolis, Connie and Dick Kovala, of Osage, their daughters Anna Aakre of Perham and Alissa Kovala and Ben of Minneapolis and Jake Harvala of Hanford, Calif., along with Renee and Burt Hill of Park Rapids. Additional friends of the family attended as well.

Judy’s connection to the captain of the USS Minnesota was exciting for the family. They were able to tour the submarine.

“We want to keep the USS Minnesota in the forefront as it will be permanently attached to this state as it travels to various ports around the world,” she said. “We should be proud of this boat.”

The event is invite only.

“You don’t get one of those every day,” Dick Kovala said of the invitations. “It’s a bucket list thing.”

“It’s historical,” added Harvey. “It was a family event, which is important. And we wanted to show support to our sailors.”

He said he also had a personal interest in attending. As a structural engineer, he was intrigued to see Fancher is a native of Indiana and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991. He has gone through years of training, schooling and experience to end up at the top command of the newest and most advanced nuclear-powered attack submarine. And coincidentally, it’s named the USS Minnesota, where his wife, Amy, grew up.

“It’s good to support family, and it was an opportunity to be proud of Minnesota,” Connie Kovala said. She added that while it was interesting to see a submarine in person since she hadn’t before, it was also “more meaningful because of the family attachment.”

The submarine was built at Newport News Shipbuilding and is 377 feet long. It can stay submerged for up to three months at a time. Construction began in February of 2008.

Dick Kovala said the submarine cost $2.6 billion. While at the commissioning ceremony, the group of family members was waiting in line to see the inside of the submarine. Connie Kovala said they had been waiting at least an hour to an hour and a half and debated leaving the line, but decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience so they were going to stay in line and wait.

Her niece, Amy, found them, heard how long they were waiting and went to find her husband, the new captain of the sub. Kovala said that Fancher came over and said, “Follow me.”

They headed to the front of the line and “we got our own private tour. It was awesome,” she said.

Harvala and Dick Kovala also attended the christening of the submarine in October of 2012. The commissioning was a formal, organized and impressive ceremony.

“The whole Navy decorum they use,” Connie said really stuck with her. “They are steeped in protocols and policy and very proud to be where they’re at.”

Several dignitaries spoke at the event, including Minnesota senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

After the ship’s sponsor Ellen Roughead said, “Man our ship and bring her to life,” Kovala said all the sailors that would be serving on the submarine lined up in front of it to take charge of the now active submarine.

It is the most advanced warship in the U.S. Navy. Harvala said the protocol was amazing to him as well. When certain people boarded the sub, a bell would ring. When they exited, a different bell would ring. Same with flags being raised and lowered, depending who was aboard.

He said that while they didn’t know the difference, the sailors knew exactly who was on the sub that way. He added that Norfolk, Va., in general was a sight to see. The naval complex is the largest in the world.

“You couldn’t help but be impressed with all the Navy goings-on,” he said. Just being at the ceremony and seeing the naval station made the family members see how big a deal the Navy is because many times is gets overlooked, or rather not as “out there.” Which is why is has been dubbed the “silent service.”

“We were able to be a part of the silent service,” Harvala said.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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