By Randy and Kaye Patterson, Greater Austin Council's Ambassadors
to the USS Texas Birthday Celebration and Change of Command
Most of us think of children, parents or close friends when a birthday arrives. Recently, however, Kaye and I had the privilege and fun of a different kind of celebration – the eighth birthday of a special ship and crew now serving in our Navy.
We were present in Galveston (with 2,500 of our closest friends) on 9 September 2006 when Mrs Laura Bush placed USS TEXAS (SSN 775) in commission. Dampened by a fierce shower, the ceremony was impressive as this second VIRGINIA-class submarine officially joined the Fleet, following in the line of earlier ships bearing the name of our state.
Jump now to the eighth birthday of TEXAS, on 9 September 2014, when we were happy to join a somewhat smaller crowd at the change of command observance in Pearl Harbor. Held at the busy and modernized Submarine Base, many black subs (including a visitor Collins class sub from Australia) now rest at piers where storied boats were berthed and refitted during the Pacific War.
CDR Andrew Hertel turned over the command of TEXAS to CDR Todd Nethercott, who seemed quietly awed by his new responsibilities. TEXAS has just finished an extensive, 26-month maintenance period in the Pearl Harbor Shipyard, where a broad range of upgrades provided increased ship's speed and fire control capabilities for the modern torpedoes and Tomahawk missiles which will soon be loaded for their next deployment.
The time honored ceremony of ship command transfer was attended by the crew, relatives and family members, other submariners, and a contingent of Texas Navy Leaguers and supporters from Houston and Austin. Under welcome awnings along the pier on a sunny, hot day, CDR Hertel reviewed his tour, mentioning the extensive support of the Texas Navy League and other groups. In mentioning that he had been often asked “What is that thing attached to your submarine?” in reference to the small set of “longhorns” they had until the Greater Austin Council replaced them with some true (8 foot) proper longhorns. Now Hertel relates that people ask “What is that thing attached to your longhorns?”
In keeping with tradition at Pearl, everyone then retreated to the lanai of Lockwood Hall, where we used to sip some champaign after an hour or so at a change of command in the Hawaiian sun – a sure recipe for a headache for the rest of the day. No bubbly this time, but a nice buffet and some welcome cool water.
A highlight of the day was certainly the tour of TEXAS, where we were shown much of the forward part of the boat. In spite of its size, the interior of TEXAS is at least as packed as any sub I have ever seen, with surprisingly cramped spaces full of stainless piping and monitor screens. No periscope to hang on, like in the movies – the Control Room is packed with display screens for everything needed to operate and fight the ship. Sonar stations down one side and fire control down the other, with the officer of the deck just behind the “pilot” and “co-pilot”. No place for anyone who may have trouble with their cable remote device!
A later highlight of the birthday festivities was an evening party at the Bowfin Museum, where dinner and Tito's flowed freely. On behalf of the Greater Austin Council of the Navy League, I presented Andy Hertel with a certificate as an “Honorary Texan” and wished him well on his next assignment with the staff at Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka.
My overall impressions were as you might expect – a fabulous machine manned by open and friendly young men with amazing skills and the knowledge needed to get the most out of their equipment. You can be sure that TEXAS is solidly in good hands.
USS Bowfin (SS-287), completed nine World War II combat patrols and enroute to tenth as the war ended. Now a museum ship at Pearl Harbor, HI. Randy and Kaye looking our way from the bow.