USS Minnesota 'ready' for groundbreaking role

The USS Minnesota passes under the Thames River Railroad Bridge in New London while making its way to Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Friday.
The USS Minnesota passes under the Thames River Railroad Bridge in New London while making its way to Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Friday. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Groton - One of the first attack submarines that women will serve on relocated to the Naval Submarine Base on Friday.

On Wednesday the USS Minnesota (SSN 783) left Norfolk, Va., where it was commissioned in September as the 10th Virginia-class submarine, and made its way to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, its new homeport.

"It feels good to finally be up here," Capt. John W. Fancher, the submarine's commanding officer, said shortly after arriving.

The submarine force needs every submarine it can get, Fancher said, and the sooner the Minnesota can support the fleet, the better. The Minnesota joins 15 submarines based in Groton. "This is the beginning of the next chapter to get the boat ready to go out and do what submarines do for combatant commanders around the world," he said.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced in October that the Minnesota and the Groton-based USS Virginia (SSN 774) are the first two attack submarines that female officers will join as members of the crews. Women have served on ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarines since the Navy lifted its ban in 2010.

"It's always nice to know you got picked to be the first to do something," Fancher said. "To me, what it means is we have a good reputation and they know we can succeed."

The Navy plans to assign three female officers to each submarine: a supply corps officer who will act as a mentor and two nuclear-trained officers. They will arrive at the base by January 2015.

In the next year, Fancher said, he is sure there will be some training and preparatory steps, but he has not been told the details. He said the crew is looking forward to it.

"It's an important step for the submarine force and the Navy, and we know we'll be ready," he said.

The submarine will spend most of 2014 at Electric Boat for maintenance, repairs, alterations and testing, the vessel's "post-shakedown availability." After this period, a submarine will typically leave for its maiden six-month deployment within 12 to 18 months.

Fancher, who leads a crew of about 135, will turn over command of the Minnesota after more than three years in charge to Cmdr. Brian Tanaka, a Minnesota native, in late February. Fancher said he is incredibly proud of the crew because of how well they have done their jobs and how respected they are.

Fancher will next serve as the deputy commander of Task Force 69 in Naples, Italy. He said he looks forward to seeing "Minnesota's name in lights in the future."

The sub and the crew, he said, "are going to continue doing great things."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

The Virginia-class submarine USS Minnesota makes its way up the Thames River Friday en route to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. The Minnesota, the 10th sub built in the class, was commissioned Sept. 7 in Norfolk, Va., and will now be homeported at the Groton base.
The Virginia-class submarine USS Minnesota makes its way up the Thames River Friday en route to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. The Minnesota, the 10th sub built in the class, was commissioned Sept. 7 in Norfolk, Va., and will now be homeported at the Groton base. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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