When the USS Montana was officially commissioned into the U.S. Navy fleet last year, the attack submarine and its crew already had a firm relationship with its namesake state – thanks to the work of the USS Montana Committee.
“We went through and really put Montana into that little vessel out in the middle of the ocean – which seems kind of odd,” said Brian Lipscomb, the committee’s vice chair. “But one thing about Montanans, of course, is our loyalty to us as a country, to protecting our shores in our waters. And so for the sailors to appreciate that, even though we're a long ways from the ocean, we really appreciate what they're doing and want to support them – not only through the time of their service, but even beyond that.”
On Thursday, leaders and community members gathered at the State Capitol, as the Montana Historical Society presented the committee with its “Heritage Guardian Award.”
The event began and ended with drumming and singing by the Brothers Drum Group.
“I look around the room, and this is representative of the breadth and the depth of Montana’s great culture and heritage, from our indigenous populations to our military,” said Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras.
The award cites all the committee did to infuse “a sense of place, history, and culture reflective of the Treasure State’s heritage and values” into the USS Montana. Over the last few years, they have brought the boat’s crew members to visit Montana, toured its bell around the state leading up to the commissioning ceremony, and engaged with the Navy to bring Montana imagery on board.
“When I saw what the committee did for the heritage of Montana by putting the stuff on the boat itself – like the murals and all that stuff – I just thought that it was exciting that the committee was holding up the heritage of Montana, past and present,” said Roger Knoell, the past commander of the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc., Montana Base.
Knoell recommended the committee, chaired by Bill Whitsitt, to receive the award.
“When I received the email, I couldn't wait to get on the phone to Bill Whitsitt, let him know, ‘Hey, we got it!’” he said.
In addition to serving as vice chair, Lipscomb took the lead on arranging Montana tribal participation in the committee’s activities. He says this process been meaningful for everyone involved.
“You never endeavor to do something that is viewed as an historical event – that's not why we as committee members did this,” he said. “But as we went through it and experienced the commissioning and the commissioning ceremony and everything that went into it and the building of that relationship, it felt historical to us. So the fact that the Montana Historical Society has recognized that is an honor and is humbling.”
The work of the committee is far from over. Lipscomb says they plan to continue the relationship with the USS Montana throughout its service life – likely 30 years. The committee’s also planning for a possible documentary, which could move forward in the next year.