New sub skipper to take USS Missouri to the next level

Cmdr. Michael Luckett salutes as he is piped ashore by Boatswain's Mate 2nd class Eric Santiago after taking over command of USS Missouri, (SSN 780), from Cmdr. Tim Rexrode during a change of command ceremony Friday, April 20, 2012, onboard USS Missouri at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton.
Cmdr. Michael Luckett salutes as he is piped ashore by Boatswain's Mate 2nd class Eric Santiago after taking over command of USS Missouri, (SSN 780), from Cmdr. Tim Rexrode during a change of command ceremony Friday, April 20, 2012, onboard USS Missouri at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Groton — The officer who commissioned the USS Missouri turned over command Friday to the officer who will take the submarine on its maiden deployment.

After nearly three years at the helm, Cmdr. Timothy Rexrode said he was happy to see how far the crew and officers had come. But Rexrode said he was sad to be leaving, because as the officer who was in charge when the Virginia-class submarine entered the fleet in 2010, "you feel like there's a part of you in that ship."

"It's like I'm leaving a part of myself behind," he said after the ceremony on the pier at the Naval Submarine Base. "So it's a little bittersweet."

Cmdr. Michael Luckett, who previously served as a future operations planner at the U.S. Special Operations Command in Florida, is the new commander.

"I'm excited, proud and a bit humbled," he said in an interview. "It's a big job and a big responsibility. … Missouri brings unique capabilities to the combatant commanders, and I'm sure they'll find some challenging things for me to do."

Rexrode said the submarine "couldn't be in more capable hands." Rexrode led the Missouri (SSN 780), the seventh member of the class, through its initial tests as a newly-constructed submarine. Missouri completed its sea trials in December, more than a month ahead of schedule, saving the Navy about $1 million. It was then available to support major fleet exercises, which freed up other submarines for other jobs.

Just last month, the sub completed its latest certifications at the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center in the Bahamas. Capt. Michael Bernacchi, chief of staff for Submarine Group Two, said during the ceremony that the name Timothy Rexrode could be shortened to "T-Rex."

"He became a record setter," Bernacchi said. "I realized that you just poke the T-Rex, then quickly get out of his way and he'd get the job done."

Vice Adm. John M. Richardson, commander of the submarine force, sent a letter congratulating Rexrode for a superb job "in bringing a ship to life" and creating a "rock-solid foundation that will be part of the Missouri legacy for generations." Richardson told Luckett that his new assignment would "require your very best" and wished him and his wife, Natasha, success.

Luckett said preparations for next summer's maiden deployment will start "pretty much right now."

"Today begins the next chapter in Mighty Mo's life," he said. "Our challenge is to get the ship and ourselves ready for combat. It's a difficult road ahead of us."

But, he said, he knows the crew is up to the task.

"As we go forward, we never know what day or hour the call of war will come, and the nation depends on us to be ready to fight when it does," he said.

Rexrode, who said the crew deserved the credit for the sub's accomplishments, received a Meritorious Service Medal, Gold Star in lieu of Third Award, as well as several proclamations from the state of Missouri and a state flag. He will next serve as a senior inspector at the U.S. Fleet Forces Command Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

USS Missouri (SSN 780) stand at attention for the ship's change of command ceremony where Cmdr. Timothy Rexrode turned over command of Missouri to Cmdr. Michael Luckett Friday, April 20, 2012, onboard the submarine at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton.
USS Missouri (SSN 780) stand at attention for the ship's change of command ceremony where Cmdr. Timothy Rexrode turned over command of Missouri to Cmdr. Michael Luckett Friday, April 20, 2012, onboard the submarine at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
USS Missouri (SSN 780) officers wait to escort guests to their seats for the ship's change of command ceremony where Cmdr. Timothy Rexrode turned over command of Missouri to Cmdr. Michael Luckett Friday, April 20, 2012, onboard the submarine at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton.
USS Missouri (SSN 780) officers wait to escort guests to their seats for the ship's change of command ceremony where Cmdr. Timothy Rexrode turned over command of Missouri to Cmdr. Michael Luckett Friday, April 20, 2012, onboard the submarine at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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