As a sponsor, Mrs. Obama will participate in the ship’s ceremonies, such as its christening, where she would bestow the vessel’s name and smash a bottle against the bow, and its commissioning, in which the sub becomes a part of the active Navy fleet.
A sponsor also must maintain a bond with the vessel and each captain and crew throughout the ship’s active life.
According to the Society of Sponsors of the Navy’s website, this can be as simple as exchanging emails or holiday greetings to participating in sail-aways and homecoming events.
The secretary of the Navy selects women to serve as sponsors for ships and submarines.
According to a White House announcement, other first lady sponsors include Laura Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton, now the secretary of state.
Mrs. Obama also serves as the sponsor for the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, based in Alameda, Calif.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as sponsor of the USS Illinois,” Mrs. Obama said in a statement. “I’m always inspired by the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the Navy, as well as the families who support them.”
“This submarine is a tribute to the strength, courage, and determination that our Navy families exhibit every day,” she said.
The USS Illinois is being built in Groton, Conn., and Norfolk, Va., and is expected to deploy in 2015.