There was a change of command in San Diego California on January 24, 2014 onboard the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711). Cdr. Eric Severseike turned over command to Cdr. Jeff Juergens during the ceremony held at Naval Base Point Loma. Congratulations to Commander Severseike for a successful tour and best wishes to Commander Juergens as the 711 enters the next phase of her career,
There is something that bonds men to their ship besides the fact that they are assigned by an order from some higher command to sail on her. Your fate is tied to the ships fate in both peacetime and war. How well you operate her and how well she responds to the demands made on her will ultimately assure your mutual survival or mutual destruction. Every warship built since the beginning of time has been purpose built to respond to the known threats and perceived challenges that she may face while on the oceans that range the face of the earth.
As a young boy, I developed an early interest in ships and particularly warships. I earned money cutting grass and as fast as I earned it, I spent it on building a world class fleet in my basement. In the early sixties, Revell was king of the models and the cardboard boxes filled with parts were regularly brought into my subterranean shipyard on Duncan Station Road.
From their Web Page: “Since 1945, Revell has been the leader in plastic model kits. Our designers are passionate about scale model authenticity and model building. Choose from our huge selection of accurately detailed cars, trucks, ships, aircraft, spacecraft plus much more and say “I Made That!””
Sure, I built a number of cars, planes and spacecraft, but by the time I was fifteen, my brothers and I had amassed a fleet that was absolutely incredible. In our fleet, the Arizona still proudly led the way as part of a battleship Navy that could withstand any attack from. New Jersey, Missouri, Iowa and North Carolina were all lined up in perfect battle formation to challenge ships they never saw; the Mighty Bismarck, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the Battle Cruiser Graf Spee were joined by the Monster ship Yamato to stare down the American and British Fleets.
We had World War 2 carriers (Hornet, Wasp and Yorktown) alongside the most modern and fearful ships of our day: The USS Enterprise, bristling with F4 Phantoms and Corsairs. Destroyers screened the vulnerable carriers and supply ships. One of those was a model of the ship my Dad had sailed on during his trip home from the Philippines. We even had a couple of JFK’s PT boats and a gunboat or two from the Vietnam era.
Like most kids, I had a healthy curiosity about submarines too. That meant that we had to have a couple of U-boats and Gato class submarines lurking near the field of battle. But I did not have a nuclear submarine in the fleet until the very end. I’m not sure why but I suppose it was probably due to the lack of availability. It wasn’t until just about the time I discovered girls that our local toy store finally had a model of the USS George Washington. It folded open so that you could see the insides and even had a firing missile tube (launched by a small spring that needed to be inserted).
Sadly, by the time this one came along, I was weary from the meticulous assembly, gluing, and painting that were required for the many ships that came before her. Also, I discovered that my new found interest with girls was all consuming and the fleet went into mothballs except for the times my younger brother Tom still put them to sea. Even Tom eventually lost interest since his war gaming did not require actual ship models and planes. The basement became a graveyard of sorts and when I joined the Navy in 1972, the entire fleet suffered a catastrophe of epic proportions in July when Hurricane Agnes roared up the middle of the country. The water backed up through the drainage system and floated the hapless fleet into history, damaged by the muddy water and mold.
SSBN 598 – The real thing…
My first boat was the real USS George Washington and I was surprised to find that the interior didn’t match the model we had in our collection at all. I also found that the GW was already starting to show the signs of continuous operations on a boat that was put together in kind of a hurry. She had leaks were there shouldn’t have been leaks, much of the equipment was already out of date with the newer technologies and things broke a lot. Let’s just say that as a young submarine mechanic, I got a lot of chances to practice my skills and figure out a way to fix things that lacked spare parts.
Me second boat was the Halibut and she was ending her service life when I arrived. Again, many hours doing tasks that were not what I thought I would be doing during my early days of dreaming about being a sailor on the seven seas.
San Francisco Precom Crew
The in the early days of 1980, I got a chance to actually build a real submarine. I had requested the Ohio Class boats but my detailer wisely knew that I would be better off on a boat that had just been launched and was rapidly taking shape as the newest Fast Attack Submarine in the Navy’s quickly growing Cold War arsenal. (Actually, I am pretty sure the guy was just filling holes and really had no idea of the favor he had just done for me).
When I arrived, the crew was still pretty small. Launched in the fall of 1979, she was in the water but still pretty bare inside. The big stuff was in of course since hull cuts are never a good idea if you can avoid them. But the ventilation, piping and electrical systems were not completed. There were holes where the galley and crews berthing would eventually be. Our days were filled with fire watches, training and more training. We studied diagrams and quickly became subject matter experts in systems that were not quite ready for business.
While the people from the Newport News shipyard worked very hard assemble our boat, others were in line behind us. They built the boat but we built the crew. Hundreds of hours watching and learning helped prepare us for the day we would sign the papers to take over this new weapon. Slowly over the course of the next sixteen months, we added machinist mates, electronics technicians, sonar men, radiomen, yeomen and many others as the shipyard finished the installation and testing of the equipment we would need. The work was hard and exacting but as the ship came together so did the crew.
For me this was a unique experience. My other commands were places I came to almost after the fact and fitting in was not easy. But being on board a new commissioning vessel is an experience unlike any other I had before or since.
What we were building was the heart and soul of that warship.
Newport News builds an awesome submarine. I have been able to see their work up close a number of times since the SSN 711 days but I can assure you that the country gets a good product for their investment. Just as important though were the Officers, Chiefs, Petty Officers and non-rates who poured their hearts and souls into that boat. I had no fear the first time we submerged the ship. Everything that could be done to ensure the physical safety of the crew had been done with meticulous attention to detail. Everything we could do to prepare ourselves as a crew had also been attended to with exacting purpose. I knew that Randy Simpson would do well on the planes and Nick Dalebout would perform his duties well. Bill Phelps inspired confidence and our DCA knew how to manage any casualty that we would face. We had the best torpedomen, radiomen, sonar operators and nuclear trained technicians that existed in any boat. Our Captain was a standup guy (still is) and I thank you Al Marshall for leading us to a successful start.
The San Francisco has had many miles under her keel in the ensuing thirty plus years. Some of those miles have been harder than anyone could have imagined when we built her. We have lost a few shipmates (tragically) along the way. But the ship that holds my heart still sails.
I wish the new Captain the best in his tour. I wish continued good fortune to my shipmates who now man the watch. There will be a few of us in San Francisco in September of this year and I will proudly toast the boat that represents one of the finer parts of my life. I have been blessed with many things in my life but one of the proudest moments of all comes when I can point to the USS San Francisco SSN 711 and with great honor say: We made that.