Saluting the sailors of the USS Iowa

They may be stationed over 1,000 miles away, but USS Iowa sailors in the Panther Patrol got a taste of Iowa for the holidays this year. 

Working together, UNI alumni, staff members and a former Iowan helping construct the submarine compiled a gift package of specially designed hats, UNI apparel and homemade cookies and fudge for the 20 Panther Patrol sailors. The Panther Patrol is one of three groups named after state universities (the others are Cyclone and Hawkeye)  that conduct security patrols on the USS Iowa, a U.S. Navy submarine under construction in Connecticut. 

The 376-foot-long vessel is expected to be commissioned in 2022 or 2023. It’s the fourth Navy ship named after Iowa.  

“Getting things from Iowa really gives the sailors a boost, because they feel supported by the people of Iowa,” said Mathew Tanner, a former Iowan and senior test engineer with General Dynamics, who is working on the construction of the USS Iowa and has been involved in bringing Panther Patrol sailors to experience Iowa. “It shows we really do care about them.”

The holiday gift package was conceived by UNI alumna Katherine Calhoun, who was one of the host families when Tanner brought Panther Patrol sailors to visit Iowa before the pandemic squelched travel.

“I thought it would be great for UNI to ‘adopt’ or do something nice for the Panther Patrol,” Calhoun said. “And since these young men and young women are serving our country, it was the right thing to do for them. A small thing, but something nice to do.”

Once the ball started rolling, Doug Johnson, director of the UNI Bookstore, Leslie Prideaux, assistant vice president for alumni relations, and the UNI Office of University Relations got involved. Johnson designed a special USS Iowa hat that featured the UNI athletic logo that was a hit with the sailors, Tanner said.

“Just having an actual UNI Panther on it is pretty impressive,” said Tanner, who retired from the Navy as a chief petty officer in 2010. “It makes them stand out. The other sailors don’t have those from the Hawkeyes or Cyclones.”

The hat was also special for Lt. Commander and USS Iowa executive officer Randy Riewerts, an Iowa native who attended UNI for one year before leaving to join the Navy.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for everything UNI,” Riewerts said. “When I saw this package it was great for me. I could tell the guys about my time there. The crew really appreciated it; they loved the ballcaps. They really enjoy connecting with the state.”

Riewerts grew up in Davenport and attended UNI from 1993-94 before joining the Navy in 1995. He was an enlisted soldier for 10 years, commissioned as an officer in 2005 and has served aboard nuclear submarines since. And he said serving aboard the USS Iowa was a dream come true.

“Being able to serve on your namesake ship is something very few people get to do,” Riewerts said. “Until you’ve spent a lot of time around the country, you don’t really realize how different people from Iowa and the Midwest are.

“When our sailors would go visit, they would come back saying the same thing. ‘Everyone is so nice there. Everyone waves to everyone and asks how it’s going.’”

The USS Iowa is a Virginia-class, fast-attack submarine capable of diving more than 600 feet. A 100-megawatt nuclear reactor can propel the 19,000 ton submarine to speeds of up to 25 mph.

The submarine will have 125 sailors on board once fully manned, and UNI’s gift package means the members of the Panther Patrol will proudly stick out.

“We are very thankful to UNI for reaching out and giving that to the ship,” Riewerts said. “It was very touching.”