USS New Mexico Holds Change of Command Ceremony

USS New Mexico Holds Change of Command Ceremony

Commander, Submarine Forces/Submarine Force Atlantic/Allied Submarine Command held a change of command aboard the Virginia-class attack submarine USS New Mexico (SSN 779) at Naval Station Norfolk, Sept. 7.

Vice Adm. Michael J. Connor relieved Vice Adm. John M. Richardson as commander. Richardson will be promoted to admiral later this year and take command as director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion.

Adm. John C. Harvey, Jr., commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, was the featured speaker.

“Quite a turnout, a turnout that reflects great respect for the change of command, which is the foundation on which our Navy is based – command and command at sea, command of our Sailors and our forces,” said Harvey. “But it also shows the respect for the individuals involved, Vice Adm. Richardson and Vice Adm. Connor. It is a demonstration of great respect to the national treasure called our submarine force, vital to our Navy and our nation.

“Our submarine force remains an elite force today, one true to its heritage and one who truly has delivered extraordinary results for the nation. A force which takes the most complex technology our nation can develop, takes it to sea and delivers results. Our submarine force operates well forward around the globe, everywhere they need to be. These Sailors and ships give our Navy the asymmetric advantage it has in the maritime domain. No nations’ Navy can touch our submarine force and every nations’ Navy knows it.

“This is the force we entrusted to Vice Adm. Richardson the last two years. He took a great force and made it better – the most advanced, most powerful, most responsive and most ready submarine force in the world. He has continued to improve performance of the force in every measure we got. He brings a laser focus to every aspect in every operation of the submarine force in maintaining our current and substantial undersea dominance He prepared the force for the future, developing technology in making sure our warfighting edge remained sharp, the integration of women in the submarine force to ensure we have access to the talent we will need to fight and win in the future. John Richardson has made this high performance work better, for he realized that all these technological marvels are just expensive junk without the highly skilled and well-lead Sailors to take them to sea.”

Harvey then presented Richardson with the Distinguished Service Medal award recognizing him for his exceptional meritorious service to the government of the United States in supporting national defense objectives vital to the nation’s security by providing combatant commanders with a continuous worldwide submarine presence.

“Sir, thank you for this award, and for your kind remarks -it has truly been an honor to be a small part of your fleet,” said Richardson.

“There is the team, hundreds of Sailors and civilians working hard, making things good, anticipating any problems and always with their thumbs up – ‘you’re good.’ So, I want to spend the majority of my time today talking about these terrific people and what they do for the nation.

But before I get started on the team itself, I should note that as a team, we exist in an environment that sets us up to win before we even take the field. We are very well-supported.”

As commander, Submarine Forces, Richardson focused efforts of the U.S. submarine force on ensuring the U.S. Navy maintains undersea superiority today and into the future. As commander, Submarine Force Atlantic, he had operational command of all U.S. submarines homeported on the Atlantic coast, as well as supporting shore activities. As commander, Allied Submarine Command, he acted as the principal advisor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on submarine plans, operations, and doctrine.

When he assumed command of the submarine forces in November 2010, Richardson charged his undersea leaders to conceive and develop a doctrine defining the warfighting objectives of the diverse submarine force. Inherent in the doctrine would be flexibility encouraging initiative and input throughout the force leadership to attain objectives. The Design for Undersea Warfare resulted, and it empowered all major commanders, facility commanders, submarine commanding officers, and each officer and enlisted Sailor, to align their energies along three lines of efforts: Ready Forces, an emphasis ensuring our undersea forces are ready for operations and warfighting; Effective Employment, an effort which means undersea forces will conduct effective forward operations and warfighting; and Future Force Capabilities, an emphasis on preparing undersea forces for future operations and warfighting.

“We have an awesome team, so we’re set up for success- kind of raises expectations,” said Richardson. “What exactly did we do? Well I can’t tell you. I wish I could – it is truly awesome, but it would take us about four days to debrief you here on the pier, and I know you’re getting hungry. Truly, our activity is highly classified. But I’ll push the limits as far as I can.

“First, we issued the Design for Undersea Warfare, as our roadmap, and we got busy moving out. Our business is warfighting and preparing for war. Our hope is that by doing our business in a very convincing way – by becoming masters of the undersea domain – we will deter anybody from taking us on. And if they do choose to make a move, we will defeat them swiftly and decisively. To that end; we increased our warfighting readiness by 20 percent; we have more boats certified for combat operations – ready now to respond to a crisis if called; we did that by giving more time to the COs and their crews to get themselves ready – 50 percent more discretionary time; we eliminated mandatory squadron ‘workups’ for inspections and exams – putting that responsibility on the COs to get their teams ready to meet the standards for wartime certification – and they did terrific, meeting all milestone ahead of schedule; and just to make it harder, we increased the number of surprise exams – the no-notice tests that everybody loves so much.

“And again, the team responded again and performed superbly. To clear the way for more CO flexibility, we eliminated more than 50 man-years of unnecessary and duplicate requirements from the plate – more time to improve readiness; we improved manning by five percent – that’s a harsh world, and the manpower team scraped and clawed to get both the right numbers and the right level of experience on the boats; and we also developed a solid program to help new and veteran Sailors be more successful returning to sea – providing a good sense of what they were getting in to, and some skills to manage the stresses of submarine life.

“So in short, we decentralized authority. We provided solid commander’s guidance, increased CO span of control, and the team took it from there – achieving higher levels of readiness, with more efficiency and predictability. This is the way that Navies are supposed to operate – it’s what we do.”

Addressing an audience of more than 800 attendees, including more than 340 active duty and retired flag and general officers, Richardson further reflected on his tenure as the submarine force commander, while thanking all who supported the mission of the submarine force.

“Finally and most importantly, we have wonderful families who share our service and sacrifice – they are right beside us all the way and they are here today – in force,” said Richardson.

“If there is a single theme that runs through everything that we do, it is that our Sailors and their families deserve every bit of support that we can provide them. They are our most powerful force. They make sacrifices every day and ask only that their leaders know their job, and treat them with consistency, respect, dignity, and integrity. We owe them that, and I will carry that theme forward.

Richardson graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982 and has earned master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the National War College.

He most recently served in Naples, Italy, as commander, Submarine Group 8; commander, Submarines, Allied Naval Forces South; deputy commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, and chief of staff, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Naval Forces Africa.

His other operational assignments include commanding the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Honolulu (SSN 718), homeported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and as Commander, Submarine Development Squadron 12 in Groton, Conn. Additionally, he served on the Sturgeon-class attack submarine USS Parche (SSN 683), homeported in Mare Island, Calif.; the Benjamin Franklin-class ballistic-missile submarine USS George C. Marshall (SSBN 654), homeported in Holy Loch, Scotland and Groton, Conn.; and the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Salt Lake City (SSN 716), homeported in San Diego.

His staff assignments include duty in the Attack Submarine Division on the Chief of Naval Operations staff (OP-22); naval aide to the president; prospective commanding officer instructor for Commander, Submarine Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet; assistant deputy director for Regional Operations on the Joint Staff; and director of Strategy and Policy (J5) at U.S. Joint Forces Command.

He has served on teams that have been awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the Joint Meritorious Unit Citation, the Navy Unit Citation, and the Battle Efficiency E Awards.

Connor assumes command of the submarine force after serving as the assistant deputy chief of naval operations for Warfare Systems in Washington, D.C. A native of Weymouth, Mass, he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1980 with a Bachelor of Arts in Physics. As a Mahan Scholar and graduation with distinction, Connor earned his Master of Arts in National Security Affairs and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

“I will start by thanking John Richardson,” said Connor. “This is for more-much more-than the courtesy that you and the staff showed during the turnover. Rather it is for the work that you have done, in conjunction with people like Rear Adm. Frank Caldwell [SUBPAC] and Barry Bruner [OPNAV N97] to set direction, expand the capability that the force, and show our people and their families that they are truly our most important asset.

“For the Submarine Force, I promise to work with you to gain further momentum in the direction that has been set, to work with our fellow warriors  across the Navy to maximize our contribution to the nation, and to work hard to maximize the contribution of each of our sailors to that critical mission. I look forward to talking to you – and listening to you – as we begin this next step in the journey together. You are a tremendous force, there is much to be done, and there is not a moment to lose.”

Naval Today Staff, September 10, 2012; Image: US Navy