Three Namesake Submarines Surface in New Mexico for Rare State Visit
New Mexico Navy League, October 13, 2014
by Richard M. Brown
Photos by Rick Carver
Left to right, CDR Todd Moore of the USS New Mexico (SSN-779), CDR Trent Hesslink of the USS Albuquerque (SSN-706) and CDR Timothy Poe of the USS Santa Fe (SSN-763) in center of New Mexico State Seal, crew members surround them, at New Mexico State Capitol Building, Santa Fe, NM, Oct 13, 2014. All three New Mexico namesake submarine commanders in New Mexico at the same time, at the same place, for the first time ever! Photo courtesy of Rick Carver. A picture for history!
New Mexico’s three namesake submarines -- the Los Angeles-class USS ALBUQUERQUE (SSN 706), the Improved Los Angeles-class USS SANTA FE (SSN 763), and the Virginia-class USS NEW MEXICO (SSN 779), with all three Commanding Officers and their wives, and a total of 20 members of the three crews, visited the land-locked state during the period October 11 – 13, 2014.
While in the planning stages for months, it was not until the commanding officers compared their operating schedules that a simultaneous visit, albeit a historic visit, looked feasible. A collaborative effort by the Navy League New Mexico Council’s SANTA FE and NEW MEXICO support committees, and assistance for ALBUQUERQUE by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, made it all possible. The purpose was simple -– to increase public awareness of the submarines and to render a final salute to San Diego-based ALBUQUERQUE as she nears the end of her service life.
The visit included a lunch for ALBUQUERQUE’s Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Trent Hesslink, hosted by the Chamber’s CEO and the Mayor of Albuquerque. Cmdr. Hesslink hails from New Mexico’s northern neighbor, Colorado, and has had four sea tours. It just so happens that FTC(SS) Ramon Escalante of the ALBUQUERQUE was on leave in his hometown and joined some of the planned activities. Cmdr. Hesslink reported “ALBUQUERQUE to date has made 1,035 dives during her 32 years of service.” He added, “In August, we journeyed to British Columbia to test weapons with the Royal Canadian Navy which is celebrating its Submarine Centennial. We are now preparing for our final deployment, this time with the Fifth Fleet in the Middle East.”
Other events during the “three-sub” crew visit included a cultural experience at Tesuque Pueblo, school visits in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the Navy Birthday Ball at Sandia Pueblo’s resort near Albuquerque with the three COs as the honored guest speakers, live interviews by two Albuquerque TV stations on the launch field during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, and a chuckwagon-style BBQ at the Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch, a working cattle ranch with an Old West town southeast of Santa Fe. In addition, the undersea warriors attended a reception and luncheon at Santa Fe Community College, followed by another reception at the New Mexico History Museum, and a brief visit to the Rotunda in the State Capitol building. Santa Fe Community College just received recognition as the best veteran support, two-year college in the nation.
School visits included the University of New Mexico Naval ROTC program where LTjg Nate Pelletier, a native of Albuquerque and one of four members of the crew of NEW MEXICO, briefed midshipmen on the life of a junior officer aboard a submarine and the benefits of a career in the Navy's nuclear propulsion program.
The 12 members of the SANTA FE crew participated in various community relations projects throughout the Capital City, including visits with patients at the Santa Fe Cancer Clinic and a visit to Kitchen Angels where the crew made a generous donation to this volunteer organization dedicated to providing nutritious meals to folks facing life-challenging situations.
On the final morning of the visit, the commanding officers spent an hour answering questions from callers on KKOB Radio in Albuquerque, the most powerful station in the state. The COs described the history and importance of our undersea Navy and reiterated how special it is for New Mexico to be so prominently represented in our Submarine Force.
In describing submarine forces around the world, the Commanding Officer of SANTA FE, Cmdr. Tim Poe, reported there are about 450 submarines worldwide. The skipper is a third generation sailor and has been in command for two years. He said, “Our Navy has 73 submarines which make up about a third of our naval force and at least eight are deployed at any one time.” Cmdr. Poe’s Pearl Harbor-based boat played “target” during RIMPAC 2014, the world’s largest maritime exercise. He added that the United States has not fired a torpedo in anger since WWII.
Cmdr. Todd Moore, who has served on four boats during his naval career, assumed command of Groton-based NEW MEXICO about a year ago. He described his boat’s role in ICEX 2014, including torpedo exercises under the Arctic ice. “After ICEX, we surfaced 150 yards from the North Pole, in fact, we were the first Virginia-class to surface at the pole. On our way home, we made a port call at Halifax, Nova Scotia.”
It is interesting to note that all three COs were prior enlisted. It is also interesting to note that these skippers will all be taking their boat on deployment about the same time next year, but in different parts of the world -– ALBUQUERQUE in the Mid-East, SANTA FE in the West Pacific and NEW MEXICO in the North Atlantic.
The Grand Finale for this unprecedented “three-sub” crew visit was a reception at the residence of New Mexico’s Governor, the Honorable Susana Martinez. The Governor spent several hours with our undersea warriors, and endured a number of “selfies” with cellphone cameras. The COs presented ship’s plaques to the Governor and Army Brig. Gen. Juan Griego, New Mexico Deputy Adjutant General, read the Governor’s Proclamation designating October 13th as “New Mexico Submarine Fleet Day”. It just happened to also be Navy Day.
The Navy League’s New Mexico Council thinks it may have made history as it doubts that any other state has ever had a simultaneous visit of all its namesake ships. As the visiting crews returned to their respective homeports, they carried a new appreciation for the cities and state that their boats represent.
Left to right, CDR Trent Hesslink of the USS Albuquerque (SSN-706), CDR Todd Moore of the USS New Mexico (SSN-779) and CDR Timothy Poe of the USS Santa Fe (SSN-763) in KKOB AM Radio studios, Albuquerque, NM, Oct 13, 2014. All three New Mexico namesake submarine commanders in New Mexico at the same time, at the same place, for the first time ever! Photo courtesy of Rick Carver.
Left to right: CDR Timothy Poe of the USS Santa Fe (SSN-763), CDR Todd Moore of the USS New Mexico (SSN-779), Bob Clark of KKOB AM Radio and CDR Trent Hesslink of the USS Albuquerque (SSN-706) in KKOB AM Radio studios, Albuquerque, NM, Oct 13, 2014. All three New Mexico namesake submarine commanders in New Mexico at the same time, at the same place, for the first time ever! Photo courtesy of Rick Carver.
Left to right: CDR Trent Hesslink of USS Albuquerque (SSN-706) and CDR Todd Moore of USS New Mexico (SSN-779) leading the crews, warmly greeted at Santa Fe Community College, Santa Fe, NM, photo courtesy of Rick Carver.
CDR Timothy Poe of USS Santa Fe (SSN-763) and visiting 763 crew at the New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Photo courtesy of Rick Carver.
(Obviously in costume) CDR Timothy Poe of USS Santa Fe (SSN-763), CDR Todd Moore of USS New Mexico (SSN-779) and CDR Trent Hesslink of USS Albuquerque (SSN-706), toasting with a shot of "Snakebite", Bonanza Creek Saloon, Santa Fe, NM October 2014, Photo courtesy of Rick Carver.
Submarine New Mexico Surfaces in Home State
Photos by Rick Carver (unless otherwise indicated)
On August 5th and 6th, 2014, six members of the crew of USS New Mexico, visited Albuquerque and Santa Fe as guests of the Navy League's USS New Mexico Committee.
The crew was led by the submarine's Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Craig Litty, USN, of House Springs, MO, accompanied by his wife Sheila. Another member of the wardroom was L T Steven Connell, USN, the boat's Junior Officer of the Year, of Orlando FL. Enlisted men included Combat Systems Department Enlisted Advisor STSCS(SS) Raj Sodhi of Fairfax, VA; Sailor of the Quarter MM1(SS) Andrew Klink of Charlotte, NC; ET2(SS) Keith Dolecal of East Moriches, NY; and STSSN Robert Sanchez of Flagstaff, AZ.
LCDR Craig Litty, USN, Executive Officer, USS New Mexico (SSN-779)
Thanks to arrangements by Museum Collections Manager Rene Harris, our undersea warriors were able to visit the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe. They toured some exhibits pertaining to the battleship New Mexico and exchanged two dessert plates on loan to the Navy for two new ones. This was one of the primary missions Rene wanted to accomplish. The plates are part of a 24-piece set, each plate depicting a historical New Mexico event or scene- priceless works of art as is the entire 56-piece Tiffany silver service that once graced the wardroom of the battle-hardened USS New Mexico (BB-40) during the period 1918-1946, and later were used aboard the aircraft carriers USS Midway (CV-41) and USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) prior to being returned to the citizens of New Mexico in 1963. The Museum is now the custodian after the silver service set rode the high seas for 45 years. The two plates, depicting the End of the Santa Fe Trail and Taos Pueblo had been on loan since commissioning four years ago, had traveled 150,000 nautical miles and had broken through the ice at the North Pole.
Crew observe work on dessert plate in New Mexico History Museum's conservation lab. Photo by Kate Nelson.
The two new plates represent Roca del Morro- Inscription Rock and Coronado's Expedition 1540-1542 and will take their place in the wardroom of USS New Mexico (SSN-779). The crew is very proud to carry mementos of the battleship aboard the second warship named after the state. The XO and Museum Director Jon Hunner executed the annual loan agreement. Museum Marketing Manager Kate Nelson interviewed the sailors for the museum's blog. The XO, speaking about having the plates onboard, "It's one of the key things that keep us grounded. Between these plates and what the committee sends us, it keeps us very close."
While in Santa Fe the sailors visited the USS Santa Fe exhibits in City Hall, conducted a walkabout on the Plaza, and met with Mayor Javier Gonzales, then enjoyed lunch at La Fonda Hotel's La Plazuela restaurant on the Plaza.
USS New Mexico submariners with Mayor Gonzales (far right)
That evening, the committee took the crew, dazzling in their summer whites, to Isotopes Baseball Stadium where they witnessed the Albuquerque Isotopes play the Tacoma Rainiers. But to get things started, the crew was escorted to the field where the XO threw out the first pitch using a colorful custom-printed USS New Mexico baseball, a ceremonial pitch, a bit high and wide, but an easy and souvenir for the catcher.
XO, with USS New Mexico baseball in hand, being interviewed by KOAT-TV
Custom-printed USS New Mexico baseball
XO throws first pitch
The crew stood at attention with the singer and saluted during the national anthem. At the top of the fourth inning, the sailors returned to the field for a military appreciation. Committee Vice Chair Damon Runyan was quoted as saying “I had great pride in the crew as they received a standing ovation from the baseball crowd – a real patriotic moment!” All of the crew’s participation was seen on the big screen.
XO and Senior Chief Sodhi with escort just prior to going
on the field for a military recognition ceremony
Crew posing with Isotopes team mascot “Orbit” (wearing Sr. Chief Sodhi’s hat)
Military recognition at Isotopes Park
The next morning, committee chairman Dick Brown brought the uniformed crew to Albuquerque’s Raymond Murphy VA Medical Center. For the next two hours, the sailors were introduced to 15 bed-ridden veterans by Public Affairs Specialists Bill Armstrong and Liz Lawrence. The vets represented all branches of the service and each was given a USS New Mexico ballcap and challenge coin. VA hospital staff and volunteers were also given hats and coins. One local Albuquerque vet received a USS New Mexico baseball – EMC(SS) Edward Dixon, USN(Ret) – imagine our submariners coming across a submariner – instant sea stories.
Retired submariner Chief Dixon with visiting sailors. Photo by Bill Armstrong
Sailors visit veteran in hospital lobby. Photo by Bill Armstrong.
The crew visited Bullhead Park on the 69th anniversary of the loss of USS Bullhead (SS-332), the last submarine lost during WWII and on the very day (August 6, 1945) when we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Senior Chief Raj Sodhi was interviewed at the memorial by KOAT-TV.
Crew visit USS Bullhead Memorial. Photo by Dick Brown.
Sr. Chief Sodhi interviewed by KOAT-TV. Photo by Dick Brown
The committee arranged a ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway, at 2.7 miles, the world’s longest aerial tramway, where the sailors witnessed a parasail take off from 10,378 feet above sea level. This was followed by a committee dinner at sunset in the High Finance Restaurant. There just happened to be a table of active-duty Air Force nearby, and what followed was, as Damon called it, a tremendous feeling, as committee members and crew joined him in a toast to the airmen. “They were amazed and astounded that two tables of Navy folks would stand and toast them,” explained Damon, “Another great patriotic moment.” After dinner, the committee and submariners gathered on the lookout deck for remarks by the XO with a backdrop of sparkling city lights.
LCDR Litty and wife Sheila, and Committee Vice Chair Damon Runyan
and wife Michelle, atop Sandia Peak. Photo by Dick Brown.
Committee representatives (L to R) Mark Schaefer and Michelle Runyan
with MM1(SS) Andrew Klink, LT Steven Connell, STSSN Robert Sanchez
and ET2(SS) Keith Dolecal. Photo by Dick Brown.
And so ended a great visit by the crew of USS New Mexico. They returned to their homeport of Groton, CT the next day.
The article below is being republished with permission from the Winter 2014 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, a publication of the Naval Submarine League of 5025D Blacklick Rd., Annandale, VA, 22003
NAUTILUS — FROM DREAMS TO REALITY
by Dick Brown, Former ETR2(SS)
“What one man can conceive, another man can achieve.” — Jules Verne, 1873
“It was the skipper’s intention to surface at the North
Pole, but there was
no break in the ice.” — CAPT Shepherd M. Jenks, USN, Ret., Navigator,
USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571) — North Pole Transit, 1958
From the Greek word nautilos, meaning mariner, many vessels shared the name Nautilus, some long before the fictional Nautilus surfaced in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The first was Robert Fulton's Nautilus. His submarine design was patented in France in 1798. His prototype had a collapsible mast and sail for surface propulsion and a hand-turned propeller for underwater propulsion. Before USS NAUTILUS, there were five U.S. Navy vessels by the same name. Two were sailing ships, a 12-gun schooner, commissioned in 1803, and another schooner, commissioned in 1847 for service in the Mexican-American War.
There was a Holland-class submarine prototype originally named NAUTILUS at keel-laying that became USS H-2 (SS-29) in 1911. There was USS NAUTILUS II (SP-559), a motor patrol boat, commissioned in 1917 for WWI service and there was an old diesel-electric boat, the decommissioned O-12 (SS-73), that was converted for use by the ill-fated 1931 Wilkins-Ellsworth Trans- Arctic Expedition and renamed Nautilus in honor of Jules Verne.
USS NAUTILUS (SS-168), a Narwhal-class diesel boat, saw WWII action in the Battle of Midway. Due to her large size, she was outfitted as an undersea troop carrier, landing Marines in the Gilbert Islands in August 1942 and again in November 1943 and putting scouts ashore on Attu in the Aleutians in May 1943. All in all, she made fourteen war patrols. The Royal Navy had eight sailing ships, a destroyer and a submarine named NAUTILUS but that’s another story.
Jules Verne’s Fictional Nautilus
In 1871, Jules Verne published the French edition of Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers — the classic adventure of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus submarine. The British edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea followed two years later. Today, onboard the NAUTILUS (memorial museum) is a first edition of the novel; it was also onboard during the submarine’s historic North Pole run.
Verne’s concept of a submarine was prophetic. He envisioned a high-speed, deep-diving vessel that could travel under polar ice. He saw stealth as the key to secret military operations. His submarine theme was inspired by the ongoing work of pioneer submarine designers as well as exhibits at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris where Verne witnessed progress in developing diving suits and other mechanical marvels. He was highly influenced by the discovery of electricity as well as a model of the French submarine PLONGEUR. But it was Robert Fulton’s primitive Nautilus of 1800 that inspired the name for Captain Nemo’s submarine. It naturally followed that the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine should also carry the name Nautilus.
In nautical terms, a league refers to a measure of distance traveled at sea, not to a measure of operating depth. At the time of Verne’s writing, no submarine could travel one league, let alone the fabled 20,000. Regardless, as Verne’s story goes, it was deep in the Pacific where a frigate encounters a giant sea monster. During the ensuing attack, three men are thrown into the sea and promptly captured by the steel beast. The story follows their undersea adventures aboard the Nautilus, a secret electric submarine. Wandering the seas, seemingly in exile, Nemo directs Nautilus on a series of global adventures.
The mythical voyage starts in Japan and crosses the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean before venturing into the Red Sea. From there it traverses the Suez Tunnel, an underwater passage connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Nautilus then visits the submerged land mass known as Atlantis, cruises in the South Atlantic and even noses up to the ice shelf in Antarctica, then reverses course, following the eastern seaboards of South and North America. The voyagers are attacked by a giant squid, walk along the sea floor with special air-breathing backpacks, and sink a marauding warship by ramming. They then cross the North Atlantic and are sucked into the Maelstrom off the coast of northern Norway. The three prisoners escape but the fate of the Nautilus and Captain Nemo remains unknown until the end of Verne’s sequel novel, The Mysterious Island.
Verne’s electric-powered Nautilus displaced 1507 tons compared to our Navy’s nuclear-powered NAUTILUS displacing 4092 tons. The mythical submarine had a double hull, a length of 230 feet, a beam of 26 feet and a draft of 24 feet. The real-life NAUTILUS, with a single hull, is longer at 324 feet but nearly matches Verne’s beam and draft at 28 and 26 feet, respectively. Both had floodable tanks and hydroplanes. Where they greatly differed was in test depth—an astounding 52,490 feet for Verne’s submarine. Crew complement also differed—only 20 or so for Verne’s Nautilus compared to 116 for USS NAUTILUS. Armament was simply a sign of the times–ramming at collision speed of 50 mph for Verne’s boat, six torpedo tubes for USS NAUTILUS.
Walt Disney’s first science fiction movie, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, is probably the best known of the many screen adaptations of Verne’s novel. Less than a month after release of the movie, the real captain, CDR Eugene P. Wilkinson, of the real NAUTILUS radioed “Underway on Nuclear Power”. NAUTILUS became the technological turning point in propulsion beneath the waves—the vanguard of a new age in undersea warfare.
The pioneering submarine designer Simon Lake was inspired by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues. His first operational submarine sailed from Norfolk to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, a distance of 120 leagues. Oceanographers Robert Ballard, William Beebe and Jacques Cousteau were also inspired by Verne, as were CAPT Hyman G. Rickover, an immigrant from the Czar’s Russian empire, destined to become a 4-star admiral and Father of the Nuclear Navy, and an enterprising young naval officer, LT Shepherd M. Jenks.
When LT Shepherd Shep Jenks reported aboard USS NAUTILUS in 1956, he was originally assigned as the Engineer but then CDR William R. Anderson, Commanding Officer, made him the Navigator. It was a challenging role, especially when NAUTILUS embarked on the first-ever cruise under the North Pole. When we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the commissioning of the submarine in September 2014, Shep Jenks would have celebrated his 88th birthday. Sadly, he passed away on March 26, 2014
Shep graduated from the United States Naval Academy, class of '49. After Submarine School in 1952, he was transferred to the USS BLACKFIN (SS-322) where he qualified in submarines. He was accepted into Nuclear Power School in 1955. He served aboard NAUTILUS from 1956 to 1958.
In the late 1950s, the Cold War was heating up; we were beginning to build ballistic missile submarines; the International Geophysical Year—man’s most ambitious study of his environment— was well underway; A-bombs were being detonated in the Nevada desert; and the United States was caught flat-footed when USSR launched Sputnik-I (Russian for fellow traveler) in October 1957. The launch of Sputnik-II a month later caused great concern with predictions of imminent disaster for the Free World. Of course the worry was that if the Soviets can put satellites in space, they may soon be able to fire a nuclear-armed ballistic missile at the United States. The space race was on but the U.S. program was sputtering over USSR’s sputniks, as evidenced by the embarrassing, but highly televised, launch pad explosion of Vanguard in December 1957.
Reacting to the psychological impact of the Soviets placing two satellites in orbit, President Dwight Eisenhower directed the U.S. Navy to plan an undersea transit of the Arctic Ocean by the world’s first nuclear submarine. He felt such a feat would enhance the credibility of the United States. Looking back, Shep recalls, “I think the President wanted to reassert our position as a world power, but the main reason was to prove that we could transit to the North Pole by submarine.” Indeed it was most important to determine if the Arctic could be exploited to our strategic military advantage, especially in view of the emerging threat of ICBMs.
Officially, the White House called for Operation Sunshine, a misleading code name to imply a mission in warm southern waters. Furthermore, a cover story was concocted on why NAUTILUS had ventured into the Pacific. She visited San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle, ostensibly to help familiarize our Pacific forces with the advantages of nuclear submarines when in reality she was on a classified mission.
The senior civilian scientist on the successful transpolar voyage, Dr. Waldo Lyon, had developed an instrument to help a submarine avoid ice collisions. It worked in the reverse of a fathometer, with an upward-looking sonar transducer to map the bottom profile of the icepack. Shep is highly complimentary of his civilian counterpart, the world’s foremost authority on sea ice, “Waldo Lyon was really good at his job, very intelligent.” Besides continuous use of her sonar systems and topside fathometer, NAUTILUS also conducted CCTV and periscope observations of the underside of the icepack. At that time of the year, they had continuous daylight.
And then there is the problem of magnetic compasses—they are just not reliable near the geographic pole, but instead tend to align themselves with the magnetic pole. Gyrocompasses, aligning to true north and measuring deviations from that axis, perform more reliably. But as East-West meridians or longitudinal lines converge on the pole, gyrocompasses also become erratic.
The solution was the Ship’s Inertial Navigation System or SINS. Shep explained, “We had the first SINS; it was installed aboard NAUTILUS in April 1958.” It operated independently of any reference point, except for the submarine’s starting position. It was an elaborate set of electronic equipment, unlike anything then in use. With it, the navigation team, which consisted of the navigator and four enlisted quartermasters, created a virtual map of the voyage from start to finish.
If NAUTILUS had depended on standard navigation equipment at the time, it could have become so confused that it risked traveling in circles or veering off on the wrong longitudinal tangent—a phenomenon the crew called longitude roulette.
Although impressed with SINS, the skipper had reservations, at least initially. Being new technology, he proceeded with considerable caution, minimizing the number of changes in course, speed, angle and depth, so as not to confuse SINS. As submariners of the late 50s and 60s will remember, there was a saying about SINS: If you tell it where it is, it will tell you where you are. As unproven as it was, this revolutionary navigational tool contributed greatly to the success of the mission.
Setting a Course for the North Pole
As the Navy continued to gain more operational experience with its first nuclear submarines, it came time to test their capabilities in the Arctic. By early February 1957, NAUTILUS undersea warriors could boast that their submarine had already steamed 20,000 leagues under the sea. In fact, they were so giddy about the submerged endurance capabilities of nuclear submarines that some jokingly stated they planned to surface every four years to re-enlist.
On August 19, 1957, NAUTILUS departed Groton on a classified mission. Ten days and a submerged run of 4000 miles later she rendezvoused with the conventional submarine USS TRIGGER (SS-564) in the north Greenland Sea. Before approaching the icepack, she practiced vertical ascents at zerospeed, and then made her first exploratory probe under the ice. At 81-degrees North latitude, NAUTILUS found open water, but overshot the mark and slammed into the ice, bending back both periscopes and damaging the leading edge of the sail. She was now optically blind, but managed to return to TRIGGER waiting at edge of the icepack. The crew, despite high seas and bad weather, straightened and repaired no. 1 scope but no. 2 was a total loss.
On a second excursion under the icepack in early September, NAUTILUS reached 87-degrees North—180 miles from the North Pole—further north than any ship had ever ventured. On that run she lost both gyrocompasses and in turning back she lost her way. Surfacing was not an option. By September 6th, TRIGGER was about to report NAUTILUS past due. Happily she showed the next day. TRIGGER then made a few short runs under the icepack and Nautilus made one more on September 8th. NAUTILUS then joined NATO’s naval exercise — Operation Strikeback.
Despite navigation system failures and periscope damage, NAUTILUS collected valuable scientific data on polar conditions and ocean depth for future Arctic operations. While Pentagon officials dribbled some details of the Arctic expedition to the news media, NAUTILUS ice operations were soon overshadowed by Sputnik news which in turn provided even more impetus for a transpolar voyage.
In June 1958, NAUTILUS departed Seattle with top secret orders to conduct Operation Sunshine, the first crossing of the North Pole by a ship of any kind. Ten days later, she passed through the Aleutians, gateway to the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. She transited the Bering Sea and entered the Chukchi Sea, but was forced to turn back to Pearl Harbor due to a combination of giant ice stalactites hanging above the sail and shallow water below the keel—with fifty-two feet from the top of the sail to the keel, there was not much water space left for safe submarine operations. Shep points out, “We turned around not only because of insufficient safety margin for maneuvering, but because we did not have reliable charts.” In an emergency, the skipper was prepared to use torpedoes to blast a hole in the ice if NAUTILUS, which did not have a hardened sail, needed to surface quickly.
During the layover at Pearl Harbor, waiting for the Chukchi ice to thaw, Shep, posing as a DEW Line Inspector from the Pentagon, anything but a submariner, conducted many aerial reconnaissance flights over the icepack aboard a P2V, ironically, a submarine hunter operating out of Fairbanks. Shep explained, “I flew over the icepack to study the ice and look for holes.” He gathered vital information that allowed NAUTILUS to embark on a second attempt. The layover also provided an opportunity for the crew to brief our Pacific Forces at Pearl Harbor in the ways of the Nuclear Navy.
In a way, the misleading mission name, Operation Sunshine, really did apply for a time, as the boat waited more than a month in warm Hawaiian waters. Shep finally observed dramatic improvements in ice conditions. It was July 23, 1958 when NAUTILUS quietly slipped away in the night, bound for the Arctic and a secret west-east transit under the North Pole.
CDR Anderson, well aware that Washington was anxious to make headlines, suspected that there were plans for an Atlanticside run to the pole by the nuclear submarine USS SKATE (SSN- 578)—a race of sorts to the North Pole. After all, NAUTILUS had her chance, now it was SKATE’s turn, and she would have the benefit of data collected by NAUTILUS the previous year. As it turns out, SKATE suffered propeller damage in a collision with USS FULTON (AS-11) and did not leave until July 30th.
On July 27th, at a point where the 170-degrees West meridian crosses the Aleutians, NAUTILUS passed a group of volcanic islands to starboard with the name Islands of Four Mountains— seemingly ripped from one of Jules Verne’s novels. To port was Yunaska Island. Here NAUTILUS reached a new milestone, having now traveled 40,000 leagues.
NAUTILUS threaded her way through the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska where the depth averaged a mere twenty fathoms. The crew was not too worried about being detected by the Soviets. According to Shep, “We were sure they did not patrol that area.” Now in the shallow Chukchi Sea and just above the Arctic Circle, NAUTILUS surfaced and spent two days searching for deep water at the edge of the icepack along Alaska’s northern coast.
Just off Point Barrow on August 1st, NAUTILUS submerged, turned due North and started her long historic run to the geographic North Pole. This was a straight run under the ice along the 155-degrees West meridian through uncharted waters. Shep explains that they were able to do some mapping of the ocean floor, “That was one of the reasons we made the trip. I don’t remember discovering any underwater mountain ranges or canyons. It was basically a flat bottom.” Actually, bathymetric readings across the Arctic Basin showed depths plunging to 2100 fathoms between 72 and 74-degrees North latitude, then depths ranging between 500 and 2000 fathoms to the Pole. Shep was rather surprised about their soundings in the Arctic Basin. “It was very deep!” he recalled. Admittedly, there were some underwater mountain ridges that rose quite suddenly, giving pause to the quartermasters hovering over the plotter and causing the officer of the deck to order reduced speed.
About 1000 yards from the Pole, the skipper addressed the crew on the 1MC: “All hands, this is the Captain speaking, in a few moments NAUTILUS will realize a goal long sought by those who have sailed the seas . . . standby, 10, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1, mark — for the USA and the U.S. Navy—the North Pole!” The submarine reached 90-degrees North latitude at 11:15 pm (EDT) on August 3, 1958 but continued her arrow-straight course along the 155- degree meridian, now headed due south. Shep reports, “It was the skipper’s intention to surface at the North Pole, but there was no break in the ice.” As tempting as it was, the skipper decided not to risk confusing his navigation gear by looking for a place to surface. As NAUTILUS zoomed under the Pole at 20 knots and 400 feet, the fathometer measured the depth at 2235 fathoms or 13,410 feet!
Shep does not remember any celebration when they reached the Pole, probably because he was busy in the control room, but the skipper read a letter he had composed for the President to ship’s company crowded into the crew’s mess. In the back of his mind, the skipper worried that SKATE could have reached the pole before them and was on her way back. There was no way of knowing.
It is interesting to note, while NAUTILUS crossed under the pole, a half-century earlier, RADM Robert Peary, USN crossed over the pole. He traveled over the pack ice by dogsled and reached the geographic North Pole on April 6, 1909.
After another day, NAUTILUS adjusted her southerly course to follow along the Greenwich Meridian into the Greenland Sea. By August 5th she was proceeding south between the northern extremities of Greenland and Spitzbergen. After traveling 1830 miles under the ice, NAUTILUS finally surfaced northeast of Greenland to radio CNO Admiral Arleigh Burke a simple but historic message “NAUTILUS 90 North”. On August 7th, between Iceland and Greenland, NAUTILUS passed SKATE heading north. Five days later, SKATE reached the pole and surfaced in a polynya (area of thin ice or open water), becoming the first to break through the icepack at the North Pole.
Meanwhile, NAUTILUS angled southwesterly through the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland and made a slight jog toward Reykjavik so that the skipper could board a helicopter and make his way to Washington where he participated in a press conference and a briefing for President Eisenhower on the success of Operation Sunshine.
During the White House visit, an event that inadvertently failed to invite RADM Rickover, CDR Anderson was awarded the Legion of Merit by the President for pioneering a “Northwest Passage”, albeit, a submerged sea-lane, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Later, the entire crew was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the first peacetime bestowing of such honors. Meantime, with Executive Officer LCDR Frank Adams in command, NAUTILUS made a beeline for the British Isles where the skipper rejoined his boat.
An Extraordinary Naval Career
Shep, by then a rising star in the Submarine Force, was the
commissioning engineer on USS GEORGE WASHINGTON
(SSBN-598) in 1959 and onboard during the first Polaris ballistic
missile firing. He was second in his PCO class; his good friend
and NAUTILUS shipmate LT John W. Harvey finished first and
was assigned as CO of the USS THRESHER (SSN-593).
Unfortunately, Wes Harvey perished when THRESHER went
down with all hands on April 10, 1963. Shep became the CO of
USS SKIPJACK (SSN-585) in 1963, CO of Nuclear Power
Training Unit at West Milton, NY in 1964, CO of USS
ABRAHAM LINCOLN (SSBN-602) in 1968 and CO of the
submarine tender FULTON in 1970. He retired in 1971 with the
rank of Captain. After working for Bechtel for ten years, Shep had
a new calling and became an ordained deacon in the Episcopal
Church. Reverend Jenks performed funeral services at Arlington
National Cemetery for retired RADM Richard O’Kane, WWII
Medal of Honor recipient, in 1994 and for retired CAPT William
Anderson, his former commanding officer of NAUTILUS, in
Shep Jenks was a longtime member of the Naval Submarine League and the Navy League of the United States. He served on the Navy League’s USS New Mexico Committee in the early days, when he and wife Nancy lived in Albuquerque, and delivered the invocation at the naming ceremony with Secretary of the Navy Gordon England in December 2004. Shep and Nancy then moved to Vallejo, California.
As an aside, this past March, the Groton-based USS NEW MEXICO (SSN-779) participated with the San Diego-based USS HAMPTON (SSN-767) in ICEX 2014. Such Arctic exercises help prepare our Submarine Force for a wide range of operations in a most challenging environment. The base of operations for ICEX 2014 was Ice Camp Nautilus, 200 miles north of Prudhoe Bay. ICEX 2014 assures continued access to the Arctic region and hones the skills of our submarine crews as they transit between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
CDR Bill Anderson, whose strength was in giving his shipmates
all the credit, considered the work of Shep and his team to
be the most remarkable piece of nautical navigation ever
accomplished. In the absence of nautical charts, taking star
sightings, shooting bearings on landmarks, exchanging electronic
transmissions, or viewing what lay ahead through a window like
Verne’s NAUTILUS, the first submerged Arctic crossing was
indeed remarkable. Years later, Shep reflected, “Our navigation
team, by the grace of God, had individual personalities and gifts
that perfectly fit the challenge we had on each of the voyages
north”. Jules Verne once wrote “My readers are my passengers
and my duty is to ensure that they are properly treated during the
voyage and satisfied on their return”. Shep shared this sentiment.
Safety of the crew was paramount and his careful navigation under
the ice led to the safe return of NAUTILUS.
Polaris—the North Star—that holds steady as the northern skies circle around it, has guided sailors across the oceans for centuries. While Polaris was not available to assist Shep and his team, it was there in spirit, and it continued to play a significant role in Shep’s naval career—first Polaris ballistic missile submarine—first Polaris missile firing—first Polaris strategic deterrent patrol. CAPT Shepherd Jenks—a legend in the submarine community—saw dreams of early science fiction become a real-life ocean-to-ocean journey beneath the North Pole.
Note: The author thanks CAPT Shepherd Jenks, USN, Ret. for his valuable contributions to this article. Other contributors include Al Cole, Vice Commander of USSVI’s Mare Island Base, who served aboard USS TINOSA (SSN-606), USS SKIPJACK (SSN-585) and as COB on USS SEAWOLF (SSN-575); LCDR Ray Raczek, USN, Ret. who was the Reactor Control Division Chief aboard NAUTILUS on the 1957 polar run; and NAUTILUS Plankowner LCDR Tom Brames, USN, Ret.
About the Author: Dick Brown served when
our Submarine Force was transitioning from diesel-
electric to nuclear propulsion and from
Regulus to Polaris missile strategic deterrent
patrols. He qualified on USS BARBERO (SSG-317)
while on patrol in the Bering Sea, and was on the
launch crew for the nuclear-tipped Regulus cruise
missiles that BARBERO carried. He made four
patrols on USS LAFAYETTE (SSBN-616) as a
member of the Reactor Control Division. He currently
chairs the Navy League’s USS NEW
Nautical chart showing the west-to-east transpolar track by USS NAUTILUS in 1958, signed by most of ship’s company plus four civilian engineers and scientists.
Cooks aboard USS New Mexico visit Mesilla for tasty Mexican food recipes
By James Staley / permission to reprint Las Cruces Sun-News article received Monday, August 11, 2014 from James Staley (phone: 575-541-5476)
email@example.com@auguststaley on Twitter
POSTED: 08/08/2014 05:58:58 PM MDT
Chief Petty Officer Glyn Ashley, left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Deven Nichols, center, are directed by Mayra Sierra, La Posta de Mesilla cook, in the restaurant´s kitchen on Friday. The two sailors are learning to cook about 20 recipes and will be sharing with their shipmates aboard the USS New Mexico -- a nuclear-powered Virginia class submarine. (Robin Zielinski — Sun-News)
MESILLA >> The food he ate during all his years of service in the Navy doesn't stand out to Tom Hutchinson.
"I can promise you this, the food is much better now," said Hutchinson, a former aviator who retired as a captain in 2002.
He's working to ensure it stays that way.
This week Hutchinson, who owns the famed La Posta de Mesilla, guided two submariners from the USS New Mexico through his restaurant, giving them a behind-the-scenes look at how Mexican food is traditionally prepared in the region. "This is going to really work to improve the quality of all our food," said Chief Petty Officer Glyn Ashley, 31, who oversees food service aboard the nuclear submarine.
Tom Hutchinson, La Posta de Mesilla owner, looks at a model of the USS New Mexico displayed in the restaurant on the Mesilla Plaza. In 2009 the submarine's galley was named after La Posta de Mesilla, called La Posta Abajo de Mar (La Posta Under the Sea). (Robin Zielinski — Sun-News)
Ashley and Petty Officer 3rd Class Deven Nichols, 21, sat in La Posta just after lunch on Friday, speaking fondly of the fajitas and chile rellenos they tasted. They plan to take techniques and ideas learned this week to spice up the submarine's weekly Taco Tuesday.
This week was the first time they set foot in La Posta, but their submarine's galley bears the restaurant's name. It won a statewide contest in 2010, before the submarine was commissioned.
Hutchinson also took the submariners to Chavez Farms, where La Posta buys its chile, and to Young Guns Produce in Hatch, so they could learn more about the beloved local crop.
Nichols, the head cook from Dallas, said he was impressed with the way La Posta prepares its chile. He hopes to enroll in culinary school after he gets out the service.
Ashley, from Greenville, S.C., said he absorbed a lot of operational knowledge from Hutchinson, who has owned La Posta with his wife since 1996. The tourist spot has been open for 75 years as a restaurant.
Hutchinson said the submariners learned about 20 dishes during their time in Doña Ana County.
He said about a dozen Navy personnel have come through La Posta's kitchen in the past few years to learn Mexican food cooking.
They come thanks to funding by the Navy League's New Mexico Council, a nonprofit group that supports sailors.
Ashley said he's grateful for the support he and his fellow crew members have received from New Mexicans. He said it was "far above" the backing he experienced from other states when he was aboard vessels named for them.
Another group is in Albuquerque, he said.
James Staley can be reached at 575-541-5476.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Deven Nichols stirs ground beef on Friday at La Posta. Nichols is taking knowledge of about 20 recipes back to his shipmates aboard the USS New Mexico. (Robin Zielinski — Sun-News)
USS New Mexico Chief Petty Officer Glyn Ashley pushes forward a combination plate from the serving window in the La Posta kitchen on Friday. Ashley is learning to cook about 20 recipes and will be sharing with his shipmates aboard the USS New Mexico. (Robin Zielinski — Sun-News)
July 22, 2014
Story & Photos by Dick Brown
On July 22, 2014, the Navy League New Mexico Council’s USS New Mexico Committee participated in a very special event at NM Veterans’ Memorial Park.
Four color-coded Midwest teams representing the All American Girls Professional Baseball League celebrate their 2014 Reunion in Albuquerque.
It was the occasion of the 2014 Reunion of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) and the two-inning, four-team reenactment of a baseball game that typified the iconic 1992 movie “A League of Their Own” starring Geena Davis and Tom Hanks. The film told the story of two sisters joining the first AAGPBL during WWII, when male baseball players had gone off to fight for our nation. The league inspired young women with self-confidence and spirit. In a sense, they served as pioneers in women’s sports. Still to this day the league promotes girls baseball through nostalgic annual reunions held around the country and this year Albuquerque was selected as the host city. Attending this year’s reunion were original players from America’s difficult war years, such as Terry Uselmann of Park Ridge, Illinois, and nearly 300 fans.
The committee had an outdoor exhibit and sales booth featuring, of course, USS New Mexico baseball caps and colorful custom-printed baseballs.
Damon Runyan showing a USS New Mexico poster to out-of-state visitors.
The baseball celebration included a ceremony featuring the Dukes of Albuquerque Band; Albuquerque’s Eastdale Little League girls softball team; a color guard/rifle unit; and remarks by Tourism Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, and Navy Leaguer Damon Runyan.
Damon took the opportunity to describe the Navy League’s mission and to highlight the work it does locally to support the officers and crew of our state namesake submarine. He then distributed thirty baseballs to the Eastdale girls who in turn presented them to the AAGPBL players, past and present, representing four mid-western women teams from across the country: Rockford Peaches, Racine Belles, Kenosha Comets and South Bend Blue Sox.
Damon promoting USS New Mexico and passing souvenir baseballs down the line of Eastdale coaches and players.
The Eastdale girls major softball team deserve special mention as they won the Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Oregon in August 2012 – the second champion from New Mexico in the 40-year history of the World Series. The Eastdale Little League team demolished its competitors, winning all six of its games by a combined score of 67-5.
Eastdale Little League helps Navy League pass out USS New Mexico baseballs to AAGPBL players.
Baseballs being presented to AAGPBL players.
May 7, 2014
Story by: Dick Brown
USS New Mexico had the good fortune to be selected for ICEX (Ice Exercise) 2014. In late February she was seen cruising down the Thames River, past USS Nautilus (SSN-571), bound for points north. She transited up the Atlantic seaboard and across the Arctic Circle to the North Pole. There she paused to check on ice conditions in advance of a return visit, then on to Ice Camp Nautilus, 200 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
USS New Mexico at the geographic North Pole
ICEX is organized by the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL) about every two years. Ice Camp Nautilus is ASL’s temporary village on the icepack consisting of command hut, mess shed, sleeping quarters, runway and heliport. This year’s ICEX was a two-week joint tactical exercise by USA, UK and Canada, and began on March 17th. It not only involved Groton-based USS New Mexico (SSN-779) but also San Diego-based USS Hampton (SSN-767). Below Ice Camp Nautilus, as Russia annexed Crimea, the two submarines rendezvoused for a set of under-ice war games.
Ice Camp Nautilus – note USS New Mexico in center background
With Russia stepping up claims in the Arctic, it is important for our Submarine Force to train and prepare for a wide range of operations in one of the most challenging environments on the planet. ICEX assures continued access to the Arctic region while honing the skills of our submarine crews.
New Mexico surfaced at the edge of the makeshift village and moored to the ice floe. Hampton arrived in the area the next day. The Los Angeles-class boat’s role in the exercise was to simulate a Russian Akula-class submarine. Later a crack or lead split the ice floe right down the runway. With concerns for safety, it was decided to end ICEX 2014 on March 23rd and dismantle Ice Camp Nautilus a little earlier than planned.
USS New Mexico surfacing at Ice Camp
USS Hampton joins ICEX 2014
Guests of the Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Jonathan Greenert, himself a submariner, arrived by air from Prudhoe Bay for an under-ice cruise. CDR Todd Moore, Commanding Officer, reported that this ICEX had an exceptionally high level of distinguished visitors (DVs). Besides the CNO they included Undersea Warfare Director RADM Joseph Tofalo, Sub Group Two Commander RDML Ken
Perry, Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall, US Senator Angus King (I-ME), Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM), Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, New York Times (NYT) Reporter Thomas Friedman, and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Reporter Julian Barnes.
Our USS New Mexico Committee has been in communication with Julian Barnes. He reported “The New Mexico decorations are quite prominent in the submarine —the New Mexico flag and hot air balloon wall coverings. You can see them in both videos with my ICEX stories.”
Julian adds “They presented us with hot pepper pins when we arrived and served coffee roasted in New Mexico — and the crew was definitely impressed with the dedication of its New Mexico sponsors.”
Julian’s WSJ articles were titled “Cold War Echoes Under the Arctic Ice — American Naval Exercise Using a Russian Submarine Takes On New Importance” and “Life on a Navy Sub Relies on Rules: Some Dead Serious, Others Completely Ridiculous”, published on March 26th and May 1st, respectively. They both reflected very well on USS New Mexico. Earlier, on January 13th, his WSJ article “Arctic Passage Opens Challenges For U.S. Military — Thinning Polar Ice Expected to Give Way to New Commercial Waterways and Resource-Rich Frontier” was published.
Tom Friedman’s NYT article “Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle — Aboard USS New Mexico in the Arctic” was published on March 29th. He said, “My strongest impression was experiencing something you see too little of these days on land: “Excellence.” You’re riding in a pressurized steel tube undersea. If anyone turns one knob the wrong way on the reactor or leaves a vent open, it can be death for everyone. This produces a unique culture among these mostly 20-something submariners.”
Besides the coverage by WSJ and NYT, the Navy news media ran at least a dozen stories on ICEX and USS New Mexico.
NM Congressman Steve Pearce
Congressman Pearce described his undersea experience, “I had the privilege of participating in the Navy’s ICEX operations. During this two day trip to the Arctic, I took part in a number of briefings, drills, and activities around and aboard the USS New Mexico — showcasing the mission and capabilities of the ship. In addition to the operations being conducted, I was able to interact on a one-on-one basis with the sailors aboard the USS New Mexico.”
Distinguished visitors prepare to board New Mexico
CNO with YN1(SS) Gaines, note red chile ristra upper right
CNO presentation to the officers and crew of USS New Mexico, accepting is Executive Officer LCDR Craig Litty
Senator King stated, “After touring Camp Nautilus, we made our way over to the USS New Mexico, a Virginia-class nuclear powered attack submarine that had broken through the ice only a few hours earlier. After we boarded, the submarine began its descent down to about 500 feet, where the Navy spent the next 20 hours conducting maneuvers and testing the ship's capabilities beneath the ice. . . Perhaps, however, the most impressive part of the entire trip was the quality of the people serving aboard.”
After the exercise, New Mexico sailors had some “ice liberty” at Ice Camp Nautilus. Then on her return, New Mexico surfaced at the North Pole for some more ice liberty.
Incognito sailor on ice liberty at Ice Station Nautilus
Arctic Village People?
Skipper Todd Moore at the North Pole
Crew at the Top of the World
Ice football at North Pole
US flag at the North Pole
On this trip, New Mexico celebrated her fourth birthday. She was commissioned at Naval Station Norfolk on March 27th 2010 and turned four years old in the Arctic Ocean on March 27th 2014. For her onboard celebration, the ship’s culinary specialists crafted a special birthday cake.
Happy Birthday, USS New Mexico!
Before returning to port in Groton on Good Friday, the boat made a week-long port call in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Photos Courtesy of US Navy
In Memory – Leo Davis (1922-2013)
Leo was a combat submariner and Fire Control Technician during WWII (1942-1946), earning the Bronze Star & various campaign medals. His battle station was in the conning tower of USS Cod (SS-224). Leo was one of 15 crewmen who made all seven war patrols. His old boat survives today as a submarine museum in Cleveland. In life after the Navy, Leo was a journeyman electrician and electrical contractor; president of SubVets WWII, Sandia Base; and a USSVI Holland Club member. He was a charter member the Navy League USS New Mexico Committee.
Leo’s wish to be buried at sea was fulfilled by USS New Mexico, but in such a way and in such a place that he could never have imagined. His cremains were consigned to the deep, shot from torpedo tube #1, while submerged at the North Pole.
In Memory - Shep Jenks (1926-2014)
In 1956, LT Shepherd “Shep” Jenks reported aboard USS Nautilus as the Navigator. It was a challenging role as he guided Nautilus on the first-ever transpolar under-ice voyage, passing under the North Pole on August 3, 1958. Sadly, Shep passed away on March 26, 2014 at age 87, while USS New Mexico operated in the Arctic, nearly 60 years after the commissioning of the world’s first nuclear submarine.
Shep Jenks was a graduate of the Naval Academy, Class of ’49. After Nautilus, he was the commissioning engineer on USS George Washington (SSBN-598), the CO of USS Skipjack (SSN-585), the CO of Nuclear Power Training Unit, the CO of USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602) and the CO of USS Fulton (AS-11). He retired with the rank of Captain in 1971. After working for Bechtel for ten years, Shep had a new calling and became an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church. Reverend Jenks performed funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery for retired RADM Richard O’Kane, WWII Medal of Honor recipient, in 1994 and for retired CAPT William Anderson, his former commanding officer of Nautilus, in 2007.
Rev Shep Jenks
Shep Jenks was a longtime member of the Naval Submarine League and the Navy League of the United States. He served on the Navy League’s USS New Mexico Committee in the early days, when he and wife Nancy lived in Albuquerque, and delivered the invocation at the naming ceremony with Secretary of the Navy Gordon England in December 2004. Shep and Nancy were living in Vallejo, California at the time of his death.
First, Rear Admiral Perry, COMSUBGRUTWO, with USS New Mexico at ICEX base camp.
Second, DVs disembarking from the boat.
Lastly, CNO on bridge, crew clearing ice from topside.
We have one REALLY COOL sub!
3/27/2014 9:11:00 AM
By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Julianne Metzger, Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs
ICE CAMP NAUTILUS (NNS) -- The Navy's top admiral, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, spent time last weekend at the Navy's Arctic Ice Camp and embarked aboard the USS New Mexico (SSN 779) as it participated in Ice Exercise 2014 (ICEX) with USS Hampton (SSN 767) beneath the Arctic Ocean.
"It's necessary to continue to ensure our systems, our sensors, our weapons and our platforms as we move to the Virginia-class submarine are proficient to operate correctly in the Arctic," said Greenert. "And it's also to build the next generation of submarine folks who will operate in the Arctic."
The mission of the ICEX is to train in the Arctic environment to refine and validate procedures and required equipment, as the Arctic Ocean serves as a route for submarines to transit in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
CNO has touted undersea dominance and the Arctic maritime domain as essential areas of focus for the Navy. Understandably, this exercise created a great opportunity to merge these two focus areas and learn within the environment and build a knowledge base for operations there.
The Arctic has been and will be a focus area for the Navy in years to come, said Greenert.
The President released the Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region in January. The Department of Defense is preparing for possible changes in the Arctic's operating conditions due to the discussion of climate change and receding ice.
ICEX will continue to expand to a more comprehensive exercise in the future, said Greenert.
"We'll leverage what we've learned in this and future ICEX assessments to work with our partners in industry to develop technologies for our other platforms and personnel who will operate in this environment," he said.
The CNO's visit began in the nation's northernmost point, Prudhoe Bay, Ala. From there, CNO like other scientists and international partners, flew 150 miles north to Ice Camp Nautilus. The ice camp, adrift on the Arctic sea ice, supports the overall ice exercise conducted by the Submarine Force and the Arctic Submarine Laboratory.
Of his first impressions of the camp, "Isn't it astounding that here is one of our pieces of sovereignty out in the middle of the ice, surfacing, and then its crew waiting as if we were walking down a pier in Connecticut, San Diego, Norfolk, or Bremerton [to board]," said Greenert.
Despite the frigid conditions the submarine people were acting as though it was business as normal, said Greenert.
"Once we got onboard, the camaraderie the awareness of the crew that they were doing something special was impressive," said Greenert. "The crew was very proud, and the ownership the crew had for their ship and systems was extraordinary."
Operating in the undersea domain can be problematic, but the added challenge of operating beneath the ice requires a special kind of precision, said Greenert.
"In the back of your mind if trouble ever emerges - if you have flooding or a serious fire you head to the surface," said Greenert, who is also a former submariner. "You can't do that in the Arctic, with ice all around and above you."
Witnessing the alertness, awareness and teamwork the New Mexico crew displayed while surfacing through the ice elicited applause from the ICEX visitors aboard, said Greenert.
The vastness and beauty of the arctic combined with the unforgiving environment is something that is a highlight of his 38-year naval career, said the admiral. "The extraordinary nature of being able to go to the North Pole, I'm still trying to internalize it," said Greenert.
March 27, 2014
March 26, 2014
Julian E. Barnes, Wall Street Journal
BENEATH THE ARCTIC OCEAN -– Five hundred feet below the Arctic ice cap, the USS New Mexico's crew filled two torpedo tubes. "Match sonar bearings and shoot," ordered the skipper, Cmdr. Todd Moore. The air pressure rose sharply as a simulated torpedo headed toward its simulated target: a Russian Akula-class submarine.
The Arctic exercise, one of two over this past weekend, was intended as a show of U.S. force for the benefit of America's allies, defense officials said. The drills were arranged before Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea province, these people said, but have taken on new geopolitical significance as tensions soar between East and West.
The simulated attack came amid a new era of increasingly cold U.S. relations with Moscow. U.S.-Russian cooperation in the Arctic came to a sudden halt after the U.S. recently canceled a joint naval exercise in the northern waters and a bilateral meeting on Coast Guard Arctic operations. The U.S. also put on hold work on an Arctic submarine rescue partnership.
"This trip had a slightly different cast to it because hunting mythical submarines took on more urgency," said Sen. Angus King (I., Maine), who came as an observer. "This is the only ocean where we confront each other."
Defense officials said they chose a Russian simulated sub as the target because that was the only other nation that operates in the Arctic. Moreover, these people said the exercise wasn't a signal that the U.S. sees a military conflict on the horizon.
Russian officials didn't respond to a request to comment.
Across the Arctic Ocean, the U.S. has been conducting ice exercises with submarines since 1947. During the 1980s, the Navy had three ice camps a year, a frequency that declined rapidly after the Cold War's end. The Navy is considering a renewed commitment to the Arctic as a retreating ice sheet opens up new sea lanes and makes oil exploration more feasible.
As part of the exercise, which took place 150 miles off the north coast of Alaska, the Navy sent two subs beneath the Arctic Ocean to test their ability to operate, punch through the ice, find other submarines, hide and fire their torpedoes. The Navy publicized its exploits on social media.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, who viewed the exercise, said showcasing American subs' ability to operate and to collect intelligence in any corner of the world undetected is critical to U.S. security. The U.S. has a fleet of 72 subs compared with Russia's approximate 60.
"If our allies and friends are reassured, that is a deterrent," said Adm. Greenert. "It is about being able to get to any area of the world and people understanding that we can."
The same weekend, 440 U.S. Marines concluded another Arctic exercise, this one in northern Norway with other allied troops, near the Russian border.
Norway says it plans to continue cooperating with Russia on search-and-rescue missions in the Arctic, but is reviewing its military-to-military cooperation with Moscow, said Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide. Norway is building a $125 million pier to help make it easier to move American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization military gear in and out of the country, U.S. defense officials said.
Ms. Soreide said she didn't want to remilitarize the border. "At the same time we do have, and want to have, situational awareness for our own country and the alliance," she said in an interview.
Across the Arctic Ocean, Ice Camp Nautilus, this year's base, was named after the first sub to transit the Arctic in 1958. Basically a tent and some temporary wooden shacks perched on a cracked and shifting chunk of ice, the camp conducted a variety of Arctic experiments and tests, including the ability of a new Navy satellite system to send and transmit classified data more reliably in the high north than older satellites.
This year, the first ice exercise since 2011, the Navy sent two subs – the USS New Mexico and the USS Hampton, an older Los Angeles class.
Inside the New Mexico, many of the crew was trying to pay close attention to Crimea. But underwater for weeks at a time, the crew was cut off from news reports, save for what comes from an encrypted, very-low-frequency radio signal that penetrates the ice and delivers a news report a page and a half long.
Petty Officer Third Class Christopher Willis, who was drawn to undersea service by devouring tales of submarine prowess in the Cold War, was skeptical there would be a submarine shooting war soon. The real importance of America's undersea fleet is its intelligence gathering, he said.
"It is not about putting warheads on foreheads," he said. "It is about finding out things."
Adm. Greenert said that despite tensions with Russia, he didn't foresee a return to a military competition in the Arctic and hopes to restart cooperation.
But for at least a portion of the exercise, the simulated fight raged as Cmdr. Moore demonstrated his sub's ability. As the crew prepared to fire the simulated torpedo, Sen. King asked Cmdr. Moore if there were Russian subs in the Arctic. The commander said Russian forces were usually found closer to their bases on Russia's northern coast. But, he emphasized, a sub crew must always be listening. "We never assume we are out here alone," he said.
March 25, 2014
There's news all over the Internet on ICEX 2014 and the closing of Ice Camp Nautilus. Here's two really cool Navy photos of "our" sub released through AP.
In this March 22 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors aboard USS New Mexico tie mooring lines after the submarine surfaced through the arctic ice at Ice Camp Nautilus, north of Alaska. Cracks in polar sea ice prompted the Navy to break down the camp that provided support for ICEX 2014. The commander of submarine forces ordered an early end to Ice Camp Nautilus because shifts in winds created instabilities in ice floes. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Joshua Davies)
Note USS New Mexico in background of this March 22 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, surfaced near Ice Camp Nautilus. U.S. NAVY, JOSHUA DAVIES — AP Photo
Some DVs made it. Among the weekend visitors to the camp was U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine. He landed Saturday in a single-engine airplane and toured the USS New Mexico, which had burst through polar ice. King stayed onboard the submarine for 20 hours, observing as it dove to 500 feet and broke back through the ice.
February 14, 2014
The crew of USS NEW MEXICO has just endured several weeks of family separation, at-sea evolutions in extremely bad weather, training new guys to meet exacting standards...yet in the message below the Commanding Officer, CDR Todd Moore, mentions how we back here in sunny New Mexico inspire pride in the crew. Most assuredly it is the other way around.
Greetings from sea! from CDR Todd Moore.
USS NEW MEXICO is on the surface once again, about to conclude a four-week at-sea period of great successes.
Our operations began on 21 January, when we cast off lines in a blinding snowstorm. Leaving our wives behind to shovel the driveways, we left Groton and headed out through Long Island Sound. Fortunately, the heavy snow, sub-freezing temperatures, and 30-knot winds kept all the little guys off the water and we drove free of interference out to our dive point.
That's not to say our surfaced transit was not without incident. As you know, we have had about 20% crew turnover since our last deployment and have a lot of green hands about. Many of them were not prepared for life in a steel tube rolling amidst 12-foot breaking seas. They are now! (At least most of them have got their sea legs.)
We dove as soon as we could and immediately began the training, drills, and evolutions that make a crew into a fighting team. Alternating between days of classroom training and days practicing fire, flooding, and various other calamities, we have steadily built the proficiency of Team NEW MEXICO. In the process, many Sailors have qualified new watch stations, we've had a few reenlistments, and I've had the pleasure to hand out several awards for outstanding service.
As I type this, we are headed back to port for a little R&R and to load the boat out again. The skills our crew has built up over the past four weeks will be put to the test very soon as USS NEW MEXICO heads out on a mini-deployment. While I can't go into the details of our upcoming operations, know that New Mexico will be well represented in some very high profile events.. The next time I write you, I'll have a lot to talk about!
Once again, thanks to you and the great USS NEW MEXICO Committee. Your hospitality, generosity, and interest continue to inspire tremendous and deserved pride amongst my crew.
CDR Todd Moore
USS NEW MEXICO (SSN 779)
February 7, 2014
Not long ago, first graders at Comanche Elementary School in Albuquerque wrote brief letters, accompanied by artwork, to the crew of USS New Mexico. These six and seven-year olds of Renee Ortega's and Marvin Callahan's classes studied the submarine's website in class before composing their messages to the crew and before developing their priceless works of art. The kids now await answers from the individual members of the crew.
Renee Ortega is the daughter of Joyce Pullen, Navy League board member and former chief of staff for 6-term US Senator Pete Domenici who helped get the names Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and New Mexico for our three namesake fast-attack submarines.
Below is a sampling of one-liners and colorful drawings from the batch of 48 letters.
Thank you for protecting our country - Phineas
Thank you for saving the world - Sarit
Do you ixplor (explore) the oshin (ocean)? Thank you for being brave - Kylee
Why do you go on a submarine? - Myah
Is it scary or fun? - Alyssa
Is it scary down there? - Leland
Do you move slow or fast? - Cruz
Are any Navy Seals on board? - Ian
January 30, 2014
Craig E. Litty
Lieutenant Commander, USN
Lieutenant Commander Litty, a native of House Springs, Missouri enlisted in the Navy in 1992 and served as a Hospital Corpsman until his selection to the Seaman to Admiral Program in 1999. He graduated from the University of North Florida in 2001 with a degree in Biology and was commissioned following completion of Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, FL.Following nuclear power and submarine officer training, Lieutenant Commander Litty reported aboard USS SAN FRANCISCO (SSN 711) and served as the Chemistry and Radiological Controls Assistant and the Damage Control Assistant. His second sea tour was as the Engineer Officer, USS BUFFALO (SSN 715). Ashore, Lieutenant Commander Litty served as the Aide to Commander, US Naval Forces Marianas in Agana, Guam and as the Engineer Officer of Submarine Squadron FIFTEEN. In December 2011, Lieutenant Commander Litty reported to US Naval War College as a student where he graduated with distinction, completing a Masters Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. He also served as the US representative in Class 82 of the Naval Staff College. Following completion of the Submarine Command Course Lieutenant Commander Litty reported as Executive Officer aboard USS NEW MEXICO (SSN 779) in December 2012. Lieutenant Commander Litty is a recipient of various personal and campaign awards including the Meritorious Service Medal (2 awards), the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (4 awards), the Army Commendation Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (3 awards). Lieutenant Commander Litty is married to Sheila Litty of Cedar Hill, MO, and resides in Westerly, RI. His son Alex Litty attends the University of Missouri at Rolla, and his daughter Chelsea attends Michigan State University.
Click here for large version of photo.
Watch the USS NEW MEXICO Commissioning! The USS NEW MEXICO was commissioned on 27 March 2010 at the Norfolk Naval Base and is now officially a member of the fleet of the United States Navy. The hugely successful commissioning events were a result of the tremendous financial and in-kind support provided by the citizens of New Mexico and many other states.
As the host state, New Mexico has a continuing obligation to support the crew of USS NEW MEXICO. The SSN 779 Committee, a part of the Navy League's New Mexico Council, has taken on a continuing effort to raise funds and organize in-kind support for the SSN 779 crew.
Some projects the SSN 779 Committee is organizing support for in 2010 are:
- Decoration of the Crew's Mess
- Replacement of Passageway Curtains with New Mexico style fabrics
- Host the new Commanding Officer in New Mexico