Thank you, Admiral Doran for your kind words. They mean a great deal coming from a Naval Officer of your stature whom I so greatly admire and respect.
Earlier today in a retirement ceremony Admiral Donald honored me with talking about the last 35 years of my life spent in the Submarine Force, years that have been tremendously fulfilling. He and I also recognized the contributions of my family- Anne, Meghan and Shane. It gave me great pride to see my wife of 34 years and my friend of nearly 50 years, receiving the Navy’s Superior Public Service Award in recognition for all that she has done to serve this organization and our Nation. I love you, Anne, for just being you.
To Lieutenant Shane, my son and my favorite Hornet Pilot, you honored me by following in my footsteps in service to our nation. You are a patriot who is both the future of our Navy as well as our family.
To Meg, who will always be my little girl even with two boys of hero own, Will and Jack to raise- you have made and will always make your mother and me proud to be your parents.
It’s particularly poignant to be standing here-on PASADENA moored at SUBASE Pearl Harbor’s Pier Sierra 9- the same mooring at which I was first introduced to SUBASE Pearl Harbor way back in 1971. I was returning from my first WESTPAC aboard CAIMAN (SS-323). The ‘Flamin CAIMAN’, as she was called, was on her way home to San Diego after a successful 7-Y2 month deployment. As a brand new Submariner, I had flown to the Philippines four months earlier to join her crew in mid-deployment.
I remember this experience like it had occurred only yesterday. My MAC flight from California seemed to take forever as it flew west-ward towards Clarke Air Force Base, briefly stopping only for fuel in Honolulu and Guam. Sitting crammed among other servicemen, many heading off to war in Vietnam, aboard that 707 aircraft, my mind was racing with both thoughts of joy as well as apprehension.
Joy of actually beginning my career of service to the nation as a Naval Officer- something I had dreamed of doing since I was a young boy. Apprehension with the thought of being the George in a Submarine Wardroom (You known the expression -let George do it’). As a rookie Ensign, 1 kept wondering would I be accepted by a crew that was at the top of their game in mid-deployment? Would I earn their respect as a fledging leader and mariner?
My arrival on board CAIMAN-what a whirlwind of new experiences! From the moment I stepped aboard I was treated as a full-up member of the crew and wardroom. Laying below decks as the crew manned stations for the maneuvering watch, I was directed to the Wardroom to share a cup of coffee with my new Captain and Exec. (Back then, I didn’t even drink coffee-but I did that day!) They made me feel immediately at ease and told me we were about to sail south to Singapore. The Exec mentioned that they had delayed the underway awaiting my arrival. ‘They waited for me? Wow … amazing!’ The Captain then stated- “I know you must be tired from the trans-Pacific flight, but I’d still like you to go to the Bridge and conn our boat to sea.”
I couldn’t believe it! My response was- ” Aye, aye Sir!” I jumped up to head aft to the Control Room and up to the Bridge. The XO yelled out after me, “Paul, you might want to change into your uniform first!” .. . Oh yeah, I knew that…
I got to the Bridge (in my uniform) and met the OOD, LT Davey Robinson, a seasoned dolphin-wearing vet a year older than me. He told me the ship was ready in all respects to get underway, just awaiting the CO’s permission to take in lines. He asked me if I was ready to take the Conn? Are you kidding me? I thought. I was born ready for this moment and responded for the first time as a Naval Officer – “I’m ready to relieve you, Sir.”
As we started taking in lines, I suddenly realized, I had never looked at the chart and hadn’t a clue about the outbound track. I sheepishly asked Davey- “Which way out?” With a funny smile, Davey put the chart in my hands and pointed out past Subic Bay’s Grande Island towards the South China Sea and said so only I could hear i t- “That-a-way, first course 270”. I had just begun to understand that submarining was truly all about teamwork and forceful back up.
Following the maneuvering watch, the Exec asked me to check rig for dive in the Forward Torpedo Room and Forward Battery, which I did. Next, I was sent to the Control Room to be the Diving Officer for the boat’s initial trim dive. After submerging and then surfacing successfully, I was finally shown my accommodations- a rack in the forward Torpedo Room nestled among huge MK 14 torpedoes. I instantly hit the rack and slept like a baby, or more appropriately, a seasoned submariner.
I couldn’t believe it. In the span of3 hours, I had nearly done it all as a submariner. My apprehensions had quickly faded away and I knew all my dreams of being a Naval Officer would come true. For the first time, I felt I had been accepted by the unique Band of Brothers known as the Submarine Force.
It wasn’t until many years later, as a CO myself, that I finally realized this was more a test of my mettle as an officer vice a welcome aboard exercise. In either case, it sure worked for me!
Why did I relate this old sea story today? Well, I wanted to describe the Submarine Force I had joined in 1971 … and I truly believe it’s not much different than the Submarine Force of2005. We still give people big responsibilities, even at a very young age, and they give back by performing in ways that are spectacular.
As I think back to that time on CAIMAN and first mooring here at Sierra-9, I marvel at how much has changed. Richard Nixon was President. Our Nation was fighting in Vietnam. Student protests against the war in particular, and authority in general, were underway across our land. A gallon of gas cost 22 cents. IBM just invented the floppy disk. The keel of the Navy’s newest submarine, PAR CHE, had been just laid. Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell debuted on ABC. Serving your Nation in the military was definitely not considered very cool. Andan Ensign in the U.S. Navy earned a mere $417.60 a month.
As a side note, I should point out that as a single Ensign that was the richest I ever felt in the Navy.
Indeed, the world is a vastly different place since those days. The Cold War ended. Our Navy as well as our Submarine Force have gotten much smaller, but at the same time vastly more capable. To me, submarine racks have gotten harder, and the ladders a bit longer.
During the Cold War, a submarine was primarily an anti-submarine warfare platform, focused on finding and sinking Soviet submarines. primarily in the deep waters of the open ocean. We were the Navy’s capital ship of that day- being the most lethal, effective and efficient ships in the Navy’s inventory.
Today, submarines are multi-mission platforms, often operating in shallow littoral waters filled with shipping traffic- waters that present different acoustic conditions and constant, stressful challenges. Although today’s SSNs are still concerned about maintaining their proficiency in anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare, they are also able to unleash powerful strikes ashore, to insert Special Operations Forces covertly onto hostile beaches, and to gather intelligence critical to our Nation’s understanding of potential threats. The technology aboard our ships is just incredible. In my opinion we remain today the Navy’s capital ship being the most lethal, effective and efficient ships in the Navy’s inventory.
In our Strategic Submarine Force, represented very proudly by ALABAMA moored at Sierra -2 I, we have reduced our force to just 14 boats. But the fundamentals of how we operate those boats have not changed. The two-crew concept and our job of strategic deterrence remain the same, as has their ability to launch quickly and accurately from below the surface of the ocean. Today, nearly 70% of an SSBN’s life is spent at sea, which is an amazing testament to their crews, and to the training and repair infrastructure that supports them. Our Tridents are without question the Nation’s ultimate insurance policy.
Another area that has changed is that our Nation’s focus has shifted from the Atlantic back to the Pacific. While during the Cold War we were equally concerned with a Soviet threat in both oceans, today we find the majority of the demand for submarines coming from this theater. At the same time, there has been a proliferation of submarines among other nations, tremendously complicating military operations.
Yet while so much in and around the Submarine Force has changed, there is one constant that stands above all others: our people. The people who operate submarines continue to be some of the best and brightest people our Nation has to offer. They are a group that carries on the proud legacy established by those daring men that served on submarines in World Warn, and helped our Nation to win the Cold War. They are true Patriots in the service of the Nation.
The Navy is a legacy of Sailors. When people come into the Navy, they are trained by Sailors. When they are in their training pipeline. they are trained by Sailors. When they report to their first ship, there is an entire crew eager to train us-a crew of Sailors. We learn and we pass on seamanship, navigation, and engineering. We learn leadership. We move through tours and through the ranks, always learning more from our shipmates-Sailors.
It isn’t long before we find ourselves teaching others- passing on to our shipmates what we have been taught, and improving it a little along the way. We continue learning, improving, and passing it on until the day we stand where I stand today … the day we’re piped ashore.
In that sense we are part of a legacy. A legacy means that you learn from those who came before you, carry on their traditions of excellence, and then pass them to the next generation. As I leave the Navy today, I leave knowing that this force is in excellent hands, and I leave deeply honored to have been a part of this legacy.
My time as COMSUBPAC has been professionally and personally satisfying. It was nearly two years ago that I stood here, feeling the great anticipation and even a little anxiety as I prepared to lead the Pacific Submarine Force.
So much has happened in such a short time. We began converting four Trident submarines to SSGNs, and demonstrated the concept in the hugely successful Sea Trial Experiment- Silent Hammer. We decommissioned the last of the Cold War’s Sturgeon Class submarines PARCHE after three decades of unrivaled service to our Nation. We put JIMMY CARTER into service, a boat that will soon join the Pacific Submarine Force and carry on that legacy. We brought into service VIRGINIA a submarine built to successfully operate in the post Cold War’s challenging environment. And we made the first operational deployments of ASDS-Advanced SEAL Delivery System- aboard a Pacific SSN. We stood tall with the Crew of SAN FRANCISCO as they worked so hard to successfully save their boat and themselves.
All the while, we kept doing what we do so well: manning, equipping, maintaining and supporting the U.S. Navy’s submarines in the Pacific. Our submarines have performed nearly flawlessly, carrying out numerous missions of vital national importance, never missing a beat. Our crews almost make it look too easy.
There have been so many changes in such a short time. Changes in how we select, train and assign Commanding Officers, tactical proficiency standards, how we protect ourselves from terrorist threats, how we integrate with amphibious and carrier strike groups, and how we support special operations forces. In all these areas, this staff and this force have performed masterfully.
I want to say a special thank you to the SUB PAC staff, particularly to my Chief of Staff CAPT George Manaskie and his wife Sue, FORCE Master Chief BENKO, the N-Heads and front office staff who supported me most directly. This is a group that has such great enthusiasm, knowledge, and a true belief in our mission of supporting submarines in the Pacific. Thank you.
I also want to thank CAPT T.K. Hohl and the CTF-12 staff. This is a staff of anti-submarine warfare professionals that patiently and deliberately bring together information from all of our forces-including maritime patrol and reconnaissance assets, aircraft, SUR TASS ships, and submarines-to keep track of what is going on under the surface of the Pacific in a way that is truly theater-wide. They have helped lead the resurgence in the Navy’s ASW capabilities.
To our submarine crews here today, and to the Commanding Officers, Squadron and Group commanders: let me say that it has been the pinnacle of my professional career to be your Force Commander. You inspired me daily to support you. As you look to the challenges ahead, remember that challenges have always faced our Submarine Force. We got to be the best by recognizing, attacking and overcoming challenges with talented people, technical discipline, innovation, hard work and relentless tenacity.
Admiral Doran, I want to thank you for all that you have done for our Submarine Force, for our fleet and for our Navy. Nobody could ask for a better boss. You truly understand and appreciate us. After all, you have surrounded yourself with submariners up at Makalapa! You have ensured that our submarines are used operationally in a way that delivers the greatest return on investment for our Navy and our Nation.
To Admiral Cassias … Jeff – you and Teri are getting the best job in the Submarine Force, and perhaps the best in the Navy. It is a bittersweet moment for me, knowing that I am leaving SUBPAC, but knowing that I am leaving it in very capable hands. As a former fellow CO of BIRMINGHAM, I know you are up to the challenge. BIR-MINGHAM was a very special boat. Over her 19-year history BIRMINGHAM’s crews’ had seven Commanding Officers- five of us became Flag Officers, four of which are here today (besides us-VADM (ret) Dennis Jones and RADM Mark Kenney). By the way, a bit of history, I believe this is the first time that COs of the same ship relieved each other as the Force Commander.
Whenever we BIRMINGHAM COs gather we always talk about how blessed we were to command such a fine warship and readily agree it was our crews, which made us look so good.
We always kid each other about who was the best CO and even make a point of querying crew members that served with several of us on who in their opinion was the best. In deference to Admirals Jones and Kenney, as COMSUBPAC, I decided that I get the 51% vote. And my vote is for Jeff Cassias. Jeff-you not only were the best, but also are the best. I feel so blessed to have you relieve me as COMSUBP AC, because I know you will make a great Submarine Force even better, just as you did with my first command, the good ship BIRMINGHAM.
Thank you all for making this a rewarding tour and a great adventure. As I prepare to go ashore onto SUBASE Pearl Harbor’s Sierra-9, the emotions swirling through my head today are very similar to what I felt over three decades ago when I went aboard CAIMAN: This time I have no thoughts of apprehension, but only of joy. I’m overwhelmed at the responsibility I’ve had, and I’m deeply proud to be a part of such a great team. I am very honored that I was given such a wonderful opportunity to serve our Nation.
It has been a privilege to be COMSUBPAC, and to serve our Nation in the Band of Brothers known as Submariners. I’ll end my remarks with an old submariner farewell to you all- “God speed and good hunting!”