PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (NNS) -- The commanding officer of USS New Hampshire (SSN 778) and several crew members visited their namesake state, Oct. 19, to celebrate the anniversary of their commissioning.
Four years ago this month, and nearly a week to the day, USS New Hampshire, the Navy's fifth Virginia-class attack submarine, was brought to life Oct. 25, 2008 during a commissioning ceremony at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Cmdr. John McGunnigle, commanding officer, USS New Hampshire and several crew members visited Portsmouth to meet with Gov. John Lynch, commissioning committee members, the citizens of New Hampshire and a special contingent of students who are forever linked to the Virginia-class submarine.
Slightly more than a dozen students were recognized by McGunnigle at Dover High School for their involvement in naming USS New Hampshire.
"These students will be remembered in our submarine force's history for naming our submarine USS New Hampshire," said McGunnigle. "In 2004, when these students were in third grade, they lobbied the Governor of New Hampshire, state Congressional representatives and the former Secretary of the Navy to name New Hampshire after the Granite State."
Dover High School Principal Christine Boston remembers how excited the students were to attend the commissioning of the USS New Hampshire in 2008. Boston also noted that the naming of the submarine has become more than just an event to the students, it has become a "common thread that has bound them together throughout the years of their education".
Susan Schlapak, third-grade elementary teacher at Garrison Elementary in Dover spearheaded the letter writing campaign in 2004 and reflected on meeting with the USS New Hampshire crew members which served to close the chapter on this experience with these special students.
"This group of students is a great example of how you can make a big difference in a small way," said Schlapak, who added that many of the students didn't realize the impact they had eight years ago.
"It's amazing to think that some of these students who were mere third graders are now taking steps to begin their own futures, some who have expressed interest in pursuing careers in public office, directly based on their involvement with naming the submarine," said Schlapak.
Hanna Munoz, senior high school student at Dover, was one of Schlapak's students who took part in the letter-writing campaign and reflected on her role in naming the submarine.
"I don't think I realized, at the time, what a big deal it was, but now meeting with the crew today it makes me realize what a big impact we had in naming the submarine," said Munoz, who is looking forward to beginning her college education upon graduating from high school in 2013.
In addition to the students recognized by McGunnigle, more than 70 students participating in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NJROTC) program listened to the commanding officer discuss the Virginia-class submarine asking questions ranging from the duties and responsibilities of submariners to the vast capabilities of the attack submarine.
McGunnigle answered the students' questions for the better of an hour emphasizing one of the rewarding aspects of serving aboard submarines.
"The most rewarding part about being on submarines is getting to work with an amazing cadre of young Sailors, most of who are in their early 20s, and seeing their drive and dedication to serve our country," said McGunnigle.
Retired Capt. John Dal Santo, senior Naval Science instructor at Dover High School, and former submariner, appreciated McGunnigle's visit and spending quality time educating his cadets about not only the Navy, but also the submarine force.
"This is the first exposure to the USS New Hampshire, which serves two purposes, to provide these students a better lens of what our Navy and submarine force does for our nation," said Dal Santo.
In addition to meeting with students at Dover High School, McGunnigle and several crew members also attended a luncheon with Lynch.
Lynch thanked the crew for visiting their namesake state and for their service.
"Thank you for all that you do," said Lynch. "I have enormous respect for the men and women serving in our armed forces and I thank you and your families for your service and sacrifice."