Leadership Program Tours Local Military Bases

Note: this article was originally published on April 18 in The Dolphin. Slight editorial adjustments have been made.

Groton, CT – Participants of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT's Leadership Program Class of 2020 toured military bases in the southeastern Connecticut area for the seventh annual Military Affairs session on April 11.

Military Affairs Day gives military leaders in the area the opportunity to explain and demonstrate the important part the armed services plays in the economic and community life of southeastern Connecticut.

Leadership participants visited Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London, Coast Guard Station New London, 1109th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group (TASMG) and Camp Niantic.

The guests arrived at the Submarine Force Museum and Library just outside SUBASE New London for breakfast and opening remarks from SUBASE leadership welcoming Leadership participants and explaining the purpose of Military Affairs Day.

"My office was created after this base went on the BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] list in 2005," said Bob Ross, executive director of the Connecticut Office of Military Affairs, explaining his role. "My job is to wake up every day and think about the Navy and how do we support it. How do we support Sailors and their families? How do we make this the best place to serve and live in the Navy? It’s not about one thing it’s about everything. You’re here because we can’t bring everyone on to tour the base. We can’t take everyone up in a Blackhawk. This is a forum to reach people we think will be community leaders someday. Every one of you have a circle of influence; that’s a great network of communications."

Kurt Hesch, chief operating officer of General Dynamics Electric Boat Division, also took a moment to share the role his company plays in American national security and Connecticut’s economic strength.

"We have not had to build much in southeastern Connecticut in a while," said Hesch. "That’s starting to change. We’re also seeing a big turnover in workforce. Half our workforce now is Millennials. It wasn’t even half that five years ago. We’re getting a younger workforce and we’re working to transfer that knowledge to the next generation of shipbuilders. Our Columbia-class officially launches in 2020. The Ohio-class boats are starting to wear out so we need to get the new boats out. We don’t build submarines because we like to, we build them because the United States needs them."

The first stop for Leadership participants was the 1109th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group (TASMG) stationed at Groton-New London Airport. There the guests toured the repair bays and met with Connecticut Air National Guard personnel. Leadershi participants were also invited for rides in Blackhawk helicopters and given a bird’s-eye view of eastern Connecticut.

"This organization you are touring today is a theater aviation asset," said Lt. Col. Stephan Nowakowski, facility commander and deputy commander of the 1109th TASMG. "We are a sustainment maintenance organization. We fix what’s broken right now, but also look outward. What is going to keep flying 10, 15, 20 years from now and what can we do to make sure those aircraft are working safe and reliably? We are a relatively unique organization. There are only four of us in the U.S. Army inventory; California, Missouri, Mississippi and here in Groton."

The TASMG tour was immediately followed by a visit to the Connecticut Army National Guard’s Camp Niantic where they viewed static displays of ground equipment and met military working dogs and their handlers. When the Leadership participants’ time with the National Guard had concluded it was lunchtime and the group proceeded to Coast Guard Station New London for lunch and a tour of the station.

"We have fewer members than the New York City Police Department but work both around the country and around the world," said Lt. Nina McDonald, commanding officer, Coast Guard Station New London. "We enforce boating safety laws, do drug busts and perform search and rescue operations."

When the question of what the Coast Guard did during the recent federal government shutdown came up, McDonald explained how her personnel stayed on guard and pulled through it together, all while learning some useful lessons about money management and thanking the community for their support.

"During the government shutdown we weren’t getting paid, but still patrolled because we’re needed," said McDonald. "It became a learning experience for our members about better finance and money saving, especially for our younger members who joined out of high school. Civilian spouses helped lighten the financial burden. We had a lot of support from the community during a really hard time."

The final leg of the tour was a visit to SUBASE New London where the participants toured Naval Submarine School (SUBSCOL) training facilities and an operating submarine itself.

"I have two missions," said Capt. Paul Whitescarver, commanding officer, SUBASE New London. "I support the boats on the waterfront and also a university. We have the basic enlisted submarine school and all the submarine officer corps schools are on here. We have between 1,300 and 1,500 students going through the schoolhouse on any given day so we’re bigger than the Academy."

Whitescarver shared some of the history of the base as well of the future of the submarine force. He stressed the miracle that nuclear power has been to America’s warfighting capacity.

"In 1915 the G-class first arrived here at the base," said Whitescarver. "They had a range of roughly 720 nautical miles. When I was captain of USS Scranton [SSN 756] we had a range of 33 years. On a seven-month deployment I covered 44,000 nautical miles. That’s what nuclear power brings to bear with the United States Navy. We don’t even refuel submarines anymore. The newer boats are designed to last 42 years, not to be refueled!"

On the SUBSCOL campus the Leadership program participants visited the pressurized escape trainer, where Sailors learn submarine emergency evacuation procedures, and the firefighter training facility where Sailors learn at-sea damage control. The final stop of the afternoon was a tour of USS North Dakota (SSN 784).

After a long, busy day meeting America’s warfighters, the Leadership program participants went home with a more in-depth knowledge of what the military in their area does, not only for the United States as a whole, but for southeastern Connecticut.