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At Electric Boat, a family with a shipbuilding legacy

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Groton — In preparation for Saturday’s christening of the submarine Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-795), Electric Boat President Kevin Graney sought the names of shipyard workers who had made a significant contribution to the boat’s construction.

The Rixes came to mind: father Forrest, 60, and son Joshua, 22, who both work in the Shipyard Test Organization department, or STO, sometimes virtually shoulder to shoulder.

Graney will single out the Rixes and others Saturday.

A third member of the Rix family also has had a hand in the Rickover’s building. John Lighthouse, 41, Forrest’s son-in-law and Joshua’s brother-in-law, works in the same department they do. They all live in Voluntown.

Perhaps the Rix family’s connection to Electric Boat was inevitable. Forrest’s father, Jim Rix, worked there for 29 years, dying before his grandson, Joshua, could meet him.

Forrest, an ex-submariner who left the Navy after serving on the USS Providence (SSN-719) in the mid-1980s, first worked at EB for three years in the late ’80s and returned in 2002 in the early days of the Virginia-class submarine program that so far has produced 22 boats. The Rickover will be the 12th christened at EB.

After high school, Joshua enrolled in college, discovered it wasn’t for him, and then followed his father’s path.

Forrest said he was careful not to steer his son to the shipyard.

“I left it up to him,” Forrest said. “Parents want their kids to have it better than they did. You hope your kid goes to college and doesn’t have to get as dirty as you did.”

At that point, Joshua jumped in: “I don’t mind getting dirty.”

In fact, Forrest said, his son-in-law, John Lighthouse, his daughter Emily’s husband, landed a job at EB before Joshua did and it was Lighthouse who recruited the younger Rix. Lighthouse has been at EB for 3½ years, Joshua for about a year less.

“It makes me very proud,” Forrest said of working with his son. “My wife (Lisa) and I did a wonderful job raising him. People tell me what a great kid he is.”

Joshua said few of his peers are doing what their fathers do. “I feel lucky,” he said.

It’s not unusual for families to have multiple members and/or multiple generations working or having worked at the Groton shipyard, according to Elizabeth Power, EB’s director of communications.

EB has an unusually high internal referral rate of more than 25%, she said, meaning more than a quarter of the people it hires have been referred by employees.

EB has 17,500 employees, more than at any time in the past 25 years. It hired nearly 2,000 last year and plans to hire nearly 3,000 more in 2021, as it supports concurrent production of Virginia-class and Columbia-class submarines.

“We are hiring now for machinists, pipefitters, electricians and welders and are looking for both entry level and skilled applicants for openings,” Power said. “We offer competitive wages and benefits, training and opportunity for growth with a company with an important mission.”

In STO, Forrest, a service mechanic, and Joshua, a first-class mechanic, are involved in testing “every wire, every pipe” in such non-nuclear submarine systems as hydraulics, air, potable water and sanitation, Forrest said.

“In our department, it used to be 95% or more of the people were ex-submariner personnel. They didn’t want just anybody testing systems,” he said. “Now, guys get out of the Navy, they don’t want to work here.”

The result, he said, is, “We don’t have as many mentors as people who need to be mentored.”

Forrest said he marvels at the Rickover, which was rolled out to a graving dock on the shipyard’s waterfront last week, exposing the boat in all its glory.

“To see the entire submarine on land level like that, it still amazes me,” he said. “Every piece built in sections, forward to aft, and when they’re brought together, they line up perfectly.”

After the christening Saturday, workers will finish building the Rickover, which will then undergo sea trials and be delivered to the Navy for commissioning, at which point it will become the USS Hyman G. Rickover.

Forrest said he has sailed during sea trials of all 11 of the Virginia-class boats EB has launched.

He spoke with pride of the quality of his — and EB’s — work, illustrating the point with an anecdote about a co-worker he heard refer to a minor defect as “good enough.”

“Let me ask you,” Forrest said he told him, “If you were paying a contractor to do work in your home, would it be good enough?”

The co-worker corrected the defect.

“‘Good enough’ is not good enough,” Joshua said. “If it’s not right the first time, you do it over.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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