More than 1,000 Sailors, spouses and their guests gathered to celebrate the 114th birthday of the submarine force at The Founders Inn in Virginia Beach, Va., April 12.
The celebration paid tribute to the men and women serving the submarine force, their families and all of those who came before them to take on the arduous task of undersea warfare that began when John Holland sold the submersible that would be commissioned USS Holland (SS-1) to the U.S. Navy, April 11, 1900.
Vice Adm. Mike Connor, commander, Submarine Force, hosted the event for the Hampton Roads submarine community and introduced the night’s keynote speaker, Adm. Bill Gortney, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
Gortney thanked all in attendance for their great service and paid homage to the accomplishments of the submarine force through the years.
“I’m honored to be here celebrating your history and your future,” Gortney said. “It’s good to see all the men and women here tonight that make the submarine force potent. It is because of your efforts that we pause to celebrate here tonight. I am in awe of your community. It took the boldness of a submariner to lead us to victory in the Pacific and bold commanding officers to bravely take on our adversaries in that challenging time. You were the first to bring the Navy into the nuclear age, silently doing your duty while impacting diplomacy during the Cold War. You tracked Soviet Fleets and deterred them from attacking our great nation. The Navy could not accomplish our mission without the presence you provide. You are a key piece of our weapon system. You are everywhere, always working behind the scenes and below the surface. We have the most formidable undersea warfare system in the world.”
The theme of this year’s Submarine Birthday Ball was “Celebrating 114 Years of Partnerships for Undersea Dominance.” Gortney addressed the importance of that theme to the continued success of the Navy and the nation, and then reminded everyone in uniform that their families personify that theme every day with their support and devotion.
“When we deploy, we do so in concert, fighting together. We can take the best of our respective communities and link them to accomplish our mission as the United States Navy. When our nation calls us to action, our interoperability will be our saving grace. It is our force multiplier. As I look out at this room, I see a legacy of excellence and a future full of potential and accomplishment. No matter what rank you hold, you’re making a difference and keeping our nation safe. I know that when you are called upon not one of you will miss a beat in defeating our adversaries.
“We are the greatest fighting force in the history of civilization and that fighting force has a not-so-secret weapon and that is our families. I want to thank those of you who enable our service. We know our families are the very stitches that hold the cloth of our nation together. It is because of you that we are able to follow our passion. For what you do today and will do in the future, I thank you.”
Over the years, a total of 63 U.S. submarines have been lost in war and peace, and some 4,000 young men have lost their lives serving on those submarines. The traditional tolling of the boats honoring all fallen submarines and their crews was captured in an awe-inspiring video.
Force Master Chief Wes Koshoffer, master of ceremonies and force master chief, Commander, Submarine Forces, then had the honor of announcing the traditional cake-cutting.
“It is a tradition at each submarine birthday ball that the senior and junior qualified submariners in attendance conduct the cake cutting,” said Koshoffer. “Submariners are extremely proud of the high level of knowledge, skill and reliability required for submarine qualification. Those of us who have earned dolphins, gold and silver, look back with pride on the occasion which signified that we had acquired the required skills and joined the submarine brotherhood.”
Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class Brandon Perkins of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Boise (SSN 764) and Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Robert Raeemacher from the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Albany (SSN 753), were announced as the newest submarine qualified Sailors. They joined Gortney, Connor and Ed Kracker, the lone WWII submarine veteran in attendance who qualified on the Balao-class submarine USS Bang (SS 385) in 1944, in cutting the ceremonial submarine ball cake.
A fun few hours of dancing and celebration that transcended rank and rating closed out the evening and left with it the indelible mark of the submarine force that has been on scene and unseen for 114 years.
Press Release, April 16, 2014; Image: Founders Inn