Amid a sea of black leather on Sturgis Main Street this week, a group of young sailors stood proudly while sporting their dress whites.
“Thanks for your service!” came a shout from a passersby on a throaty Harley-Davidson Road Glide cycle.
Members of the group nodded and smiled.
Standing in the front row of the “official” Main Street photo shoot at noon Tuesday, the sailors, crew members of the USS South Dakota, were in town to tell the story of their boat.
The USS South Dakota is still under construction and is set to be christened in mid-October and commissioned a year from now.
Master Chief Bryan N. Randall is chief for the USS South Dakota. He’s the senior enlisted crew member on board and the right-hand man to the captain. He said they came to Sturgis on Tuesday for Military Appreciation Day but have been busy with community events throughout the week.
“We’re here to spread the word about the USS South Dakota, so that South Dakotans know there is a submarine being built in the name of their great state,” he said.
Randall was awestruck by the sheer numbers of motorcycles on Sturgis Main Street.
“I’m not a rider, but I brought five of my crew members who are riders, and they are going on a ride with Harley-Davidson while we are here,” he said.
The crew also had a chance Tuesday to visit Belle Joli Sparkling Wine House in Sturgis. Belle Joli has been chosen to provide the bubbly for the christening of the ship.
Choi Jackson said members of the commissioning committee contacted the winery last spring about supplying the sparkling wine for the christening.
Choi and her husband, Matthew, are co-owners of Belle Joli along with Matthew’s parents, John and Patty Jackson.
“They were looking for a South Dakota-made product they could use and they chose us,” she said. “They were excited to learn that the grapes used to make the product are grown in Belle Fourche and that we are 100 percent South Dakota made.”
The group chose Belle Joli’s 2013 Estate Reserve Brut Sparkling Wine for the christening.
“We’re very honored for this opportunity,” Choi Jackson said.
This is Randall’s third visit to South Dakota. He was here in February 2016 when he and Commanding Officer Ronald Withrow of the USS South Dakota visited the state Legislature to talk about the new submarine, and also a year ago during Navy Week.
“Every time I come I’m amazed at the hospitality of the people. It’s a wonderful place to come visit,” he said.
The USS South Dakota is equipped with the Navy’s best and newest technology, Randall said. The vessel, along with all Virginia-class submarines, is both longer and lighter than the previous Seawolf class of submarines, he said.
The new USS South Dakota will be the third ship to be named for South Dakota, the most famous being the battleship BB-57, which was one of the most decorated battleships during World War II.
Another battleship South Dakota was proposed in the early 1920s. The hull for BB-49 had been laid but was only partially completed when that ship and many others were canceled by the 1922 Washington Treaty on Naval Limitations.
Randall, who is a native of Philadelphia, said he’s proud to serve as the submarine’s chief.
“I have an amazing crew, two of whom are from South Dakota,” he said. “It’s a wonderful crew to be a part of.”
He said it has been amazing to see the submarine come together. The laying of the ship’s keel took place in April 2016.
“In your career you often go to a boat that has already been commissioned and operational for many years, but to see the South Dakota come together from the beginning and be the very first crew members on board is very exciting,” he said.