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By LeAnn R. Ralph
GLENWOOD CITY — Jim Harvey likes to say the USS Wisconsin — a submarine that has been named but not yet built — started with the Tribune Press Reporter.
“Your newspaper was the epicenter of getting this started,” said Captain Jim Harvey, a retired submarine commander with the United States Navy.
Harvey, a 1958 graduate of Boyceville High School, lives in Ocala, Florida, but also spends a significant amount of time in Boyceville. Harvey is a private pilot as well who houses his Grumman “Tiger” airplane at the Boyceville airport.
Harvey sent a letter to Carlton DeWitt, publisher of the Tribune Press Reporter, in April of 2019 asking for letters to Wisconsin’s United States Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson for their support for a submarine named the USS Wisconsin in the new Columbia SSBN 826 Class.
SSBN stands for “submersible ship ballistic missile nuclear.”
DeWitt published Harvey’s letter as a Letter to the Editor — and local readers sent letters to Senator Baldwin and Senator Johnson.
In July of 2019, Baldwin and Johnson sent a bipartisan letter to the Secretary of the Navy. The letter also included representatives from state government.
In October of 2020, Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite announced that the second submarine of the new Columbia SSBN 826 Class would be named the USS Wisconsin.
“It all started in your newspaper … I’d like to think we started something in the local area,” Harvey said.
All ships have a sponsor assigned to them.
The sponsor breaks the bottle of champaign when the ship is launched but is associated with the ship throughout its existence, said Harvey, who was in the Navy for 40 years and commanded two submarines, commanded a squadron of submarines and was Chief of Staff for the Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The USS Wisconsin will be commissioned in 2030, and the submarine’s sponsor is a woman named Kelly Geurts, Harvey said, noting that she is a school teacher.
Guerts’s husband is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who, after he retired, went to work in civil service at U.S. Southern Command in Tampa, Florida, for 12 years, and then went to Washington DC as an under-secretary in the Navy for acquisitions, he said.
Kelly Geurts’s father-in-law is from Green Bay, went to Marquette University and then served in the Navy in submarines in the 1960s, Harvey said.
“We have different connections (for the submarine) from Wisconsin,” he said.
And there is still one more connection to the USS Wisconsin from the circulation area of the Tribune Press Reporter.
Harvey has been appointed to set up an association to support the new USS Wisconsin.
Harvey received a letter dated March 15, 2021, from Governor Tony Evers extending support from the governor’s office.
“On behalf of the state of Wisconsin, I extend the support of my office to you in establishing a formal association to coordinate with state leadership in promoting and supporting the new USS Wisconsin SSBN 827,” the letter begins.
“I would like to express my appreciation for the USS Wisconsin SSBN 827 Association for the work it will do in developing and formalizing a plan for the citizens of Wisconsin to learn about this warship, participate in events as appropriate, and build namesake bonds with crew members while it is under construction in Groton, Connecticut, as well as during its time at its future assigned home port. This ship will serve as a reminder of the important role of the U.S. Navy and all branches of the military play in our lives and will honor the approximately 350,000 veterans in our state who have served in the Armed Forces. We also look forward to future opportunities for crew members to become involved in our state, including sharing with our state’s school children the unique science, technology, engineering, and mathematics related training required to operate a nuclear submarine,” Governor Evers wrote.
The governor’s letter also requests that the USS Wisconsin association provide the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs with periodic formal update reports of the association’s initiatives and on the construction and operational progress of the submarine. The letter asks the association to also call upon the governor’s staff for assistance and to help make sure the submarine’s key events are communicated in advance to state leaders.
‘There are many complexities associated with building a nuclear submarine, conducting sea trials, commissioning, and making nuclear deterrent patrols, and I have confidence in the team you have assembled to support the U.S. Navy in these endeavors, backed by your leadership and experience as a crew member of previous new-construction nuclear strategic submarines. I look forward to working with this association to ensure success in such an important and significant endeavor,” Governor Evers concludes.
Harvey said he started setting up the association for the USS Wisconsin in December.
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs in Madison is a retired Navy captain, and his son is now serving in submarines, so “he’s a strong proponent,” Harvey said.
The goal of the association is to support the submarine from before it is built until it is manned and commissioned and through the time until it is decommissioned, he said.
The association is “not just for when (the submarine) is commissioned — not just for one day … we’ve just started the association, but we’ve made a lot of progress,” Harvey said.