About the Author: Dick Brown is a long-time NSL member and Cold War submarine veteran, having served
aboard USS BARBERO (SSG-317) and USS LAFAYETTE
(SSBN-616 Blue) in the 1960s. He played a lead role in
the effort to have SSN 779 named for New Mexico, his
adopted state, and chairs the USS NEW MEXICO Committee.
Members of the crews of New Mexico’s three namesake submarines made concurrent visits to the land-locked state in mid-October 2014. This crew visit may be the first time any state, especially one with three or more active-duty namesake submarines, has had crews visit at the same time. It is certainly a record for New Mexico. But records aside, more important is the great opportunity for New Mexico to show appreciation for her undersea warriors and for the crews to gain an appeciation for the state’s diverse Native American-SpanishAnglo culture, centuries-old history and mile-high geography.
While in the planning stages for months, it was not until the commanding officers of 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) compared their operating schedules that a first-ever simultaneous visit, albeit a historic event, looked even remotely feasible.
A collaborative effort by the Navy League New Mexico Council’s support committees for SANTA FE and NEW MEXICO, combined with support for ALBUQUERQUE by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, made it all possible. The purpose was three-fold: to increase public awareness of the importance of submarines to our national security, to show the submariners some real southwestern hospitality and to render a final salute to San Diego-based ALBUQUERQUE as she nears the end of her service life. The rare visit included all three Commanding Officers and their wives, and a total of twenty members of the
Among the twenty planned events was a lunch for ALBUQUERQUE’s thirteenth Commanding Officer, CDR Trent Hesslink, hosted by the Chamber’s President and Chief Executive Officer Terri Cole and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, both of whom had a ride on ALBUQUERQUE last July. The Chamber has been a long-time supporter of the officers and crew of ALBUQUERQUE; in fact, many years ago the submarine was made an honorary member of the Chamber. It just so happens that FTC(SS) Ramon Escalante of the ALBUQUERQUE was on leave in his hometown and was able to join some of the activities, including a Mexican buffet dinner with Navy Leaguers and visiting submariners. During the visit, CDR Hesslink reported “ALBUQUERQUE to date has made 1,035 dives.” He added, “Last August, we journeyed to British Columbia to test weapons with the Royal Canadian Navy which was celebrating its Submarine Centennial. We are now preparing for our final deployment.” ALBUQUERQUE will be retired later this year after thirty-three years of service to our Navy and our Nation. There is a move underfoot to acquire the sail for a future USS Albuquerque Memorial in the city.
There is an ongoing challenge involving the partnership of ALBUQUERQUE and her namesake city. At the boat’s commissioning ceremony, then-Mayor Harry Kinney presented a set of keys for a Rolls Royce to the Commanding Officer, with the stipulation that the first skipper who brought ALBUQUERQUE up the Rio Grande for a port call would win the car. The keys have been passed along to each succeeding skipper at the boat’s Change of Command ceremonies. Now with less than a year to go, it looks like the fabled Rolls Royce will go unclaimed.
Other events during the triple-sub crew visit included a cultural presentation at Tesuque Pueblo for CDR Timothy Poe and his SANTA FE crew, several grade school visits in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and the Navy Birthday Ball at Sandia Pueblo’s resort with the three Commanders, which by the way are all mustangs, as the honored guest speakers entertaining two hundred Navy fans. With regard to the event’s Sea Cadet Color Guard, CDR Todd Moore of NEW MEXICO commented that he had never seen such a sharp posting of the colors. Other events included live interviews by two Albuquerque TV stations on the launch field during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Seventeen hot air balloons were standing by to take the sailors aloft but the weather did not cooperate. In Santa Fe the sailors visited the Rotunda in the State Capitol building for a special photo opportunity.
One of the highlights of the triple-sub crew visit was a chuckwagon-style barbeque at the Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch, a working cattle ranch with a mock Old West town southeast of Santa Fe, home to movie sets for over seventy westerns, including The Man from Laramie in 1955, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid in 1968, The Cheyenne Social Club in 1970, Silverado in 1985, Lonesome Dove in 1989, Buffalo Girls in 1994, and Cowboys and Aliens in 2010. As if on cue, a cold north wind blew tumbleweeds down the dusty town street, giving the sailors a real feeling of the Old West. They could follow the footsteps of John Wayne, Kevin Costner and James Stewart through the swinging doors of the Bonanza Creek Saloon where several wives of the crew wore period costumes and the three skippers, uh cowboys, sidled up to the bar for a shot of “snakebite”.
The undersea warriors attended a reception and luncheon for one hundred and fifty, sponsored by Santa Fe Community College’s Veterans Resource Center. Again the Commanders served as guest speakers. Santa Fe Community College had just received recognition as the best veteran support, two-year college in the nation. Students at the College had arranged a rousing flagwaving welcome upon arrival of the sailors plus an impressive static display of the state’s three namesake submarines.The College luncheon was followed by another reception and tour at the New Mexico History Museum where the SANTA FE crew posed with a six-foot model of their submarine and the NEW MEXICO crew marveled at USS NEW MEXICO (BB-40) artifacts and the intricate details of a seven-foot model of the
Stepping back in time, specifically the period 1935-1937, there is an interesting story about a young lieutenant serving as Assistant Engineer aboard the battleship NEW MEXICO. He was known as a hard worker and a fierce competitor, albeit sometimes conveniently harboring a disregard for standard protocol. He had a compelling desire to win the engineering “E” efficiency award for his ship. At the risk of a crew rebellion, he shut off the coolers to scuttlebutts and modified showerheads to save hot water. Scuttlebutt has it that he dragged men out of the shower if he felt they were taking too much time. The fanatic lieutenant was none other than Hyman G. Rickover. NEW MEXICO went on to win three consecutive annual engineering awards, thanks to her water and energy-saving innovations.
And Rickover went on to become the Father of the Nuclear Navy and the longest-serving naval officer (sixty-three years); in fact, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently announced that ADM Rickover would again be honored when the Virginia-class boat SSN-795 carries his name. LTjg Nate Pelletier, a native of Albuquerque and one of four visiting members of the crew of NEW MEXICO, spoke at the University of New Mexico Naval ROTC unit. He briefed midshipmen on the life of a junior officer aboard a submarine and the exciting benefits of a career in the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program. The twelve members of the SANTA FE crew, which CDR Tim Poe calls his rock stars, participated in various community relations projects throughout the Capital City, including visits with patients at the Santa Fe Cancer Center and a visit to Kitchen Angels where the crew delivered a generous check to this volunteer organization dedicated to providing nutritious meals to folks facing life-challenging situations.
The SANTA FE crew also was interviewed by a local Santa Fe radio station, made a courtesy call on Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales at City Hall, and touched base with the local American Legion Post. On the final morning of the visit, the Commanding Officers spent an hour in the studio of the most powerful radio station in the state, answering questions from callers. The skippers 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.
CDR Poe of SANTA FE reported that his Pearl Harbor-based boat played target during RIMPAC 2014, the world’s largest maritime exercise, involving twenty-two nations, fifty ships, two hundred aircraft, and twenty-five thousand sailors in the Pacific. And CDR Moore of NEW MEXICO described his Groton-based boat’s role in ICEX 2014, including torpedo exercises under the Arctic ice, two hundred miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. “After ICEX, we surfaced one hundred and fifty yards from the North Pole,” reported CDR Moore, adding “We were the first Virginia-class to surface at the pole. On our way home, we made a port call at Halifax, Nova Scotia.” Later CDR Moore presented Governor Martinez a souvenir vial of water collected at the North Pole. NEW MEXICO conducted a burial-at-sea ceremony while at the Top of the World; the remains of a World War II combat submarine veteran from Albuquerque were shot out of a torpedo tube.
The Grand Finale for this unprecedented namesake crew visit was a special reception at the residence of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. She spent three hours with our undersea warriors, and endured a number of selfies with the crew’s cellphone cameras. The skippers presented ship’s plaques to the Governor and Army Brigadier General Juan Griego, New Mexico Deputy Adjutant General, read the Governor’s Proclamation designating October 13, 2014 as “New Mexico Submarine Fleet Day”. It just happened to also be the Navy’s 239th birthday. It was no small feat to pull off such a monumental crew visit; the planning, the coordination, the sponsorship, the execution were all major challenges. Complimentary round-trip airline tickets helped get the ALBUQUERQUE and NEW MEXICO submariners from San Diego, California and Groton, Connecticut, respectively, while many Santa Fe individuals and corporations funded airfares for SANTA FE submariners from Honolulu, Hawaii. In addition, a Santa Fe car dealer loaned five vehicles to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW 141 141 DECEMBER 2014 the crews for their use during their time in the state. The Navy League New Mexico Council sponsored all lodging for the ALBUQUERQUE and NEW MEXICO sailors in Albuquerque, using monies raised during fundraising activities throughout the year. The Santa Fe Fire Department hosted the SANTA FE crew members in their fire stations while the skipper was given a complimentary room at a historic downtown Santa Fe hotel. As the visiting crews returned to their respective homeports, they carried home a new appreciation for the cities and state that their boats represent. In turn, the citizens of New Mexico took great pride in the support they provide to our Submarine Force and expressed their heartfelt thanks to the submarine crews for their service.
In conclusion, the State of New Mexico has a long and distinguished partnership with the US Navy, as exemplified through the many ships that have proudly born names related to the state, including a patrol frigate named ALBUQUERQUE, a light cruiser named SANTA FE, and a battleship named NEW MEXICO, all of which served with pride and distinction during World War II. New Mexicans are most grateful that the Navy has again bestowed great honors upon their state by naming three of its active-duty submarines ALBUQUERQUE, SANTA FE and NEW MEXICO.