NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — An important milestone is at hand for the Navy, Hampton Roads' largest industrial employer -- Newport News Shipbuilding-- as well as some civil rights pioneers.
Saturday will bring the keel authentication ceremony for the fast-attack submarine Arkansas, which is under construction at the shipyard. When it's completed, hopefully in 2025, the future USS Arkansas will become the Navy's 27th Virginia-class submarine.
"It's not just a warship we're going to get, but it's a fully trained crew, ready-to-go-to-battle warship. So, it's a fantastic value for the American taxpayer," said CDR Adam Kaunke, the Arkansas' commanding officer.
The thousands of men and women who are constructing the $2.8 billion, 377-foot-long vessel are proud, including Arkansas native Joe Holden, who is now a production foreman at the shipyard.
"Every day I look at it and say, 'I get to build something that represents my home,'" he said. "Everything I am: bravery, courage, willingness to step up.'"
Also beaming with pride are Arkansas' ship's sponsors: the Little Rock Nine, who made history in 1957 as the first African American students to attend all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
"Yeah, we've come a long way, but we still have a distance to go. And that is why I wanted to be a part of the change," said Little Rock Nine member Ernest Green.
After all he and his school-mates went through, Green has one piece of advice for all people facing adversity: "If you believe in it, stand up for it and things can change for the better," he said.
Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin was thrilled to host these eyewitnesses to history.
"To be able to celebrate one the boats we build with the Little Rock Nine, their legacies, their struggles, what they've done for the nation, the challenges they went through to set the nation on the right path, it's an incredible day for the shipbuilders," she said.