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title "TWO Commissionings Make 2010 a Banner Year"

by Submarine Group Two Public Affairs, PEO Submarines Public Affairs, and Olivia Logan

The commissioning of USS New Mexico (SSN-779) in late March and USS Missouri (SSN-780) at the end of July made 2010 only the second year since 1996 that the Navy has commissioned two submarines of the same class.

“We will commission
two submarines this year because the Navy and its industrial partners are delivering boats ahead of schedule,” said Rear Adm. William Hilarides, the former Program Executive Officer for Submarines. New Mexico was delivered seven months earlier than the contract delivery date, while Missouri was delivered in only 65 months, nine months ahead of the contract delivery date.

“The Virginia program,” Hilarides added, “is fulfilling its primary requirements of getting this needed capability to the fleet as soon as possible and is on track to meeting our stated goal of reducing its construction span to 60 months by fiscal year 2012.”

New Mexico, the sixth submarine of the Virginia class, and Missouri, the seventh, joined the fleet with all the pomp and spectacle of traditional commissioning ceremonies. Distinguished speakers spoke words of welcome, crewmembers ceremonially boarded the new ships, and the latest Virginias embarked on their service lives with well wishes from citizens of their namesake states and the appreciation of the American people as a whole.

The U.S. Navy welcomed the newest member of the state-of-the-art Virginia class, USS New Mexico (SSN-779), in a March 27, 2010, commissioning ceremony at Norfolk Naval Station in Norfolk, Va. Among the roughly 3,000 guests invited to witness the commissioning were senior Navy officials, national and state legislators, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who owns a ranch near Taos, N.M.

Director of Naval Reactors Adm. Kirkland Donald delivered the principal address. Cindy Giambastiani, the submarine’s sponsor and wife of retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, gave the time-honored order, “Officers and crew of New Mexico, man our ship, and bring her to life!” The crew then ran aboard, marking the sub’s official entry into active service.

New Mexico Commanding Officer Cmdr. Mark A. Prokopius leads a crew of approximately 134 officers and enlisted personnel. Current and future crewmembers will continue to honor the ship’s Spanish motto, “Defendemos Nuestra Tierra” (We Defend Our Land), for the next 30 years. In June, the submarine proceeded to her homeport at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Conn.

New Mexico was built under a unique partnership between Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Electric Boat. Under that partnership, the two yards are now scheduled to build at least 12 more Virginia-class submarines for the Navy. New Mexico is the third boat to be delivered by Northrop Grumman’s Newport News shipyard.

image caption follows
Sailors assigned to USSNew Mexico
(SSN-779) run to the
Virginia-class attack
submarine after getting the order to “bring
the ship to life” during a commissioning
ceremony. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class
Christian Martinez

The sub’s keel was authenticated in April 2008, followed by a christening in December. It took 1,300 shipbuilders over five years to build her. After completing her sea trials in the fall of 2009, she was delivered to the Navy in December, four months ahead of schedule—and with one million fewer man-hours than her predecessor from Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, USS North Carolina. After two sets of sea trials, New Mexico required no major repairs or alterations.

“We’re all excited,” said Kay Weisskopf, a rigging general foreman with more than three decades at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding’s Newport News shipyard, which built the sub. “Any time we finish a quality product ahead of schedule and with [reduced man-hours], that’s a great thing to be proud of.”

Although the Newport News shipyard built its first submersible roughly a century ago, its role as a major submarine builder began 50 years ago, when it launched the Robert E. Lee (SSBN-601), America’s fourth strategic ballistic missile submarine. “That officially began our long partnership with the United States Navy’s submarine program,” Matt Mulherin, general manager of the Newport News shipyard, said at the commissioning. “Building submarines is an important part of our tradition at Newport News.”

Thanks to residents of the “Land of Enchantment,” reminders of New Mexico’s ties to the 47th state appear throughout the boat. Bunk curtains with an Aztec print were made in the city of Las Cruces, N.M. Albuquerque resident Emilee Sena designed the ship’s crest in 2007, placing representations of a New Mexico sunset, the Sandia Mountains, and the Zia symbol from the state’s flag around a drawing of the submarine.

“I was a senior in high school and never thought of the importance and the impact my painting would have,” said Sena. “I am proud of being part of this submarine and the life of the Sailors on board who defend our country.”

image caption follows image caption follows

Director of Naval Reactors, Adm. Kirkland Donald delivers the ceremony’s principal address.
Photo by John Whalen, NGSB.

New Mexico ready for her commissioning ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk on March 27, 2010. USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) can be seen in the background. Photo by Alan Baribeau.

“Even though we’re a long way away in New Mexico, and we’ll never get the sub up the Rio Grande to visit us, this is very important to us, and we’re very happy,” noted Dick Brown, chairman of the New Mexico commissioning committee. “It’s just a great honor for the state of New Mexico.”

Even the ship’s galley has a New Mexico flare. It is affectionately known as “La Posta,” after a famous 70-year-old restaurant in Mesilla, N.M., which is currently owned by retired Navy Capt. Tom Hutchinson. La Posta won the honor 18 months ago in a statewide competition with other restaurants.

“We’ve had several mess specialists visit New Mexico and work side by side to learn our recipes,” said Hutchinson. “They’re underway six to nine months at a time. Every other week, they’ll have La Posta night, and they’ll prepare a lot of our dishes.” In addition to donating recipes, La Posta presented the ship with a $1,200 check from the sale of New Mexico items in the restaurant’s gift shop.

image caption follows
Cindy Giambastiani, the wife of Adm.
Edmund Giambastiani,
USN (ret.), served
as ship’s sponsor and gave the traditional
order to “man our ship and bring her to life.”
Photo by John Whalen, NGSB

The only other ship named after the state was a battleship (BB-40) that was in service from 1918 to 1946. Battleship New Mexico earned six battle stars in World War II service and provided shore bombardment support for landings in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, and at Guam, Tinian, Saipan, the Philippines, and Okinawa.

Today’s New Mexico carries some mementos from her predecessor. In 1917, the New Mexico state Senate commissioned Tiffany & Co. to make a 56-piece sterling silver set for the battleship’s wardroom. After BB-40 was decommissioned, the Navy returned the set to the state. It is now in the collection of the New Mexico State History Museum at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, and the museum has loaned the submarine two dessert plates, each engraved with a scene from the state.

The sixth member of the Virginia class, New Mexico is 377 feet long, displaces 7,800 tons and is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles and MK-48 torpedoes. She can dive to a depth in excess of 800 feet and operate at speeds in excess of 25 knots while submerged.

Like other members of her class, New Mexico is designed to dominate both littoral and deep water and conduct special operations; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; irregular warfare; and mine warfare missions. She is the first of her class to go into commission fully certified in anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare and strike. Her intrinsic stealth, endurance, firepower, and sensor capabilities enable her to directly support five of the six core capabilities of the Maritime Strategy: sea control, power projection, forward presence, maritime security, and deterrence.

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