Jill Biden, Sponsor of Submarine Delaware, Ready for Keel Laying

Vice President Joe Biden, left, and his wife, Jill Biden arrive, Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Karl Gehring)
Vice President Joe Biden, left, and his wife, Jill Biden arrive, Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Karl Gehring)

As a sailor's daughter, Jill Biden should feel at home Saturday at Newport News Shipbuilding, which will host the keel-laying ceremony for the future USS Delaware.

Her father, Frank C. Jacobs, served as a naval signalman during World War II. He and wife Bonny raised five daughters, Jill being the oldest.

Growing up outside of Philadelphia, dad took the girls to see the Navy's Blue Angels flying team whenever they came to town. Patriotic parades were a staple of entertainment. John Philip Sousa music played at home.

"Growing up, my father was very proud of his military service," Biden said Wednesday in a phone interview with the Daily Press. "He really instilled in us a sense of patriotism."

Biden serves as sponsor for Delaware, a Virginia-class attack submarine. But this is hardly her first foray into military affairs as the wife of Vice President Joe Biden.

She has teamed with first lady Michelle Obama on the Joining Forces initiative, which seeks to enlist the public's support for the spouses, children and loved ones of U.S. troops.

As a ship's sponsor, a role steeped in Navy tradition, her public role begins with the keel laying, which celebrates the start of construction. A welder will burn her initials onto a steel plate that becomes part of the boat.

When construction is complete, she will break a bottle against the ship during the christening ceremony. When the Delaware is ready to join the fleet, she will call the crew onboard for its commissioning.

Biden said the role means a lot to her, and her husband likes the idea, too.

"Oh my gosh," she said. "He's really proud."

But her role will go beyond public appearances. She will get to know members of the crew, getting access to the close-knit submarine community. For those who believe in things unseen, it goes even deeper than that.

"The sponsor imbues the ship with her spirit," Biden said, leaving no doubt about the connection she hopes to achieve.

If she has her way, the message behind Joining Forces will somehow find its way onto the boat.

"Michelle and I have been focusing on military families for this administration," she said. "We've tried to create awareness for all Americans of what our military does, and the resilience of our military. We've reached out to Americans and asked them to commit to an act of kindness for our military families."

Kindness is not normally associated with a front-line attack submarine, but Biden said it is important for the sailors to their families are being supported back home. That can enhance a ship's mission in a different way than torpedoes or missiles.

Another positive vibe is emanating from the sub: For the state of Delaware, this whole thing is pretty cool.

"It means everything," she said. "It's been (nearly) a hundred years since we've had a ship named after Delaware, and it makes Delawareans very proud."

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced the Delaware's name in November 2012, saying "it has been too long since there has been a USS Delaware in the fleet."

The last vessel to bear the name of America's first state was a battleship that served during World War I and was decommissioned in 1923. In all, seven Navy ships have carried Delaware's name into service, according to the Navy. The first was a frigate launched in 1776.

Nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines are built in a teaming arrangement between General Dynamics Electric Boat of Groton, Conn., and the Newport News shipyard, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Each yard assembles sections of the sub, then takes turns in final assembly and delivery to the Navy. The Virginia-class program is considered a Navy success story in terms of meeting or exceeding cost and schedule goals.

The submarines are also in high demand. Congress has recently focused attention on how to continue building two Virginia-class boats a year while embarking on a program to replace its aging fleet of ballistic missile submarines.

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