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Groton — Capt. Mark VanYe said the coldest he has ever been was standing in the bridge of a submarine in the driving sleet near Sitka, Alaska.
"Our sailors should be able to tell stories like that," VanYe, commodore of the Regional Support Group Groton, said Friday. "Their sea stories shouldn't be about how their introduction to the submarine force was standing in the bitter cold a week out of basic submarine school, trying desperately to qualify on a small arm so they could qualify for their first watch, unable to hit a target because their hands were too cold to aim the weapon."
Standing in front of a new $11 million, high-tech, indoor small arms range at the Naval Submarine Base, VanYe said, "This building proves we're better than that, that we mean it when we say we are a professional force, dedicated to the quality of service of the exceptional men and women who join our force."
The base held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the new range, which is replacing a 10-lane outdoor range that was built in 1950.
Other than its roof, the outdoor range was unprotected, Capt. Marc W. Denno, the base commander said, and training sometimes had to be done after hours or on the weekends during the severe New England winters. It was no longer "up to our 21st-century warfighting needs," Denno said.
"This state-of-the-art small arms range is another example of the impact of our ongoing and dynamic basewide transformation effort," he said, and the building "highlights the Navy's committed investment" in the base and its mission.
The new range has 20 lanes with a fully automated target system for pistols, rifles, shotguns and machine guns. It was built using environmentally friendly technologies, and the number of shooters per day is not limited.
Many of the local leaders in attendance wanted to see the new facility because the base lets the Coast Guard, Connecticut National Guard and law enforcement officers use its range.
Coast Guard Capt. Eric C. Jones, assistant superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, said he was interested in sending cadets over, and he thinks the range could possibly host intercollegiate competitions.
Groton City Police Lt. Harry Merritt was also excited about the prospects.
"There's no doubt we'll be using this," he said after the ceremony. "The Navy has the money to do this. Local governments don't. We really appreciate it. We're a Navy community, and we'll be working hand-in-hand for a long time to come."
Watermark Environmental of Lowell, Mass., was the prime contractor for the project, which took just over a year to complete. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, secured the funding as part of the 2009 Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act. The Navy did not plan to fund the project until 2013.
Courtney and others toured the range. New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said the city's police department could possibly use it, too.