First lady Michelle Obama on Monday will help lay the keel for a new submarine under construction in Rhode Island.
She is scheduled to speak at a ceremony at Electric Boat's manufacturing plant in North Kingstown for the future USS Illinois, her office said Wednesday. The 13th Virginia-class submarine is named after her home state.
The first lady is the ship's sponsor. In a Navy tradition, she is expected to write her initials on a metal plate then a welder will inscribe them. The plate will later be mounted on the submarine.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus is the keynote speaker. Mabus does not attend many keel-laying ceremonies and neither do relatives of crew members. But Obama, who has made it a priority to support military families, invited the sailors' families to the event, said Command Master Chief David DiPietro, the submarine's chief of the boat.
"For the families, it's important for them to know how important what we're doing is, and for them to feel like they're a part of the process," he said. "... It's not usual, it's an honor. It's also kind of a big deal."
Lt. Timothy Hawkins, a Navy spokesman, said, "This is not a common keel laying. Obviously."
The event is held to formally recognize the beginning of a ship's construction. The sub is expected to cost about $2.7 billion and be commissioned in fall 2015. Construction began in March 2011.
Both Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton have sponsored submarines. Obama also serves as the sponsor for a Coast Guard cutter. She last visited Rhode Island in 2011 to meet with military spouses and attend a fundraiser.