Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of a new exhibit at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport WA.
The purpose for this new exhibit was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launching of the USS George Washington (SSBN598), the first nuclear ballistic missile submarine.
I proudly served on the ‘Georgefish’ between the Fall of 1976 and Summer of 1979 as a Radioman. She was in dry dock at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, undergoing a reactor core replacement, when I first reported aboard.
My first visit to the scenic Kitsap Peninsula and Silverdale WA was when we pulled into Bangor Subase to onload missiles. I have some great memories of my time spent here in the Puget Sound area.
And now, over 30 years later, I find myself once again enjoying life in Kitsap County WA, and living just a few minutes from the Trigger Gate.
During the ceremony last week, keynote speaker, Admiral Frank Caldwell, Commander of Submarine Group 9, posed the question:
“Is the mission of the SSBN still relevant today?”
Given the recent security breach at Bangor Subase by anti-nuclear arms protestors, and the overall waning of support for our military out of Washington these days, the answer to this question seems even more pronounced.
In his comments to those in attendance at the exhibit opening, Adm. Caldwell stated, “Our ballistic missile submarine force continues to be an extremely vital part of our national defense. It was, and remains today, the most survivable component of our nuclear defenses.”
In the December 2009 issue of ‘All Hands’ (official magazine of the US Navy), there is a very timely article entitled “50 years of Strength through Deterrence.” In this article, Captain David Ratte, Commodore of Submarine Squadron 17, is quoted as saying:
“The fundamental mission of the SSBN has not changed since the 1960’s. How we execute it has changed, the details such as adversaries have changed, but how and why we operate our ships at sea is all still in place. The mission of the SSBN still involves the safety, security, reliability, and survivability of our nation’s maritime nuclear deterrence force.”
Attending the ceremony at the Naval Undersea Museum brought back a flood of memories – the comradery of my shipmates, the pride and dedication of the crew, the hard work and sacrifices made to successfully carry out our mission.
Later that afternoon, as I was being interviewed by Navy media personnel, I was asked the question “In light of this new exhibit, what message do you have for today’s sailors serving in our submarine fleet?”
“Unless you’ve actually served on-board a submarine, it’s hard for people to fully understand and appreciate all the challenges and sacrifices that are a part of every day life for our sailors. The US Submarine force has a longstanding tradition of dedication to duty and unselfish service towards country. The new George Washington exhibit provides a well needed reminder to the valued legacy of pride and patriotism of all those sub sailors who have faithfully served the cause of national security and freedom.”