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Policy changes ahead for sub bases
SEPARATE COMMANDS Atlantic and Pacific fleets will be split. FOR KINGS BAY The base will get a full-time rear admiral.
By Gordon Jackson, The Times-Union
ST. MARYS - Submarine Group Trident was created in January 2006 to place the fleets of nuclear ballistic missile submarines on the east and west coasts under a single command. The Navy is now reversing that decision based on a Department of Defense task force recommendation.
Submarine Group 10 at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base and Submarine Group 9 at Bangor (Wash.) Naval Submarine Base will have separate commanding officers in coming months.
The Navy also will assign separate commodores for Submarine Squadrons 16 and 20 at Kings Bay and add more training staff at Trident Training Facility.
Once the Atlantic and Pacific commands are separated this year, a rear admiral will be assigned full time to Kings Bay for the first time since the two commands were merged three years ago. The commander is now in Bangor, Wash.
Navy officials said the recommendations were not the result of any problems but were intended to improve efficiency at both bases.
It was in the interest of efficiency, however, that the two groups were placed under a single commander in the first place. The rationale then was Trident submarines share the same mission as a key part of the nation's strategic deterrence against nuclear attack regardless of where they are ported.
The Navy believed only one commander was needed to coordinate activities for submarines on both coasts. There was also a cost savings because only one staff was needed to oversee both commands.
Former national Navy League President Sheila McNeill said the 3,000-mile distance between Bangor and Kings Bay made the job of overseeing both fleets "almost impossible."
"You couldn't be in two places at one time," she said. "It was too much to ask one person to do."
McNeill said she agreed with the proposal to assign separate commodores for Squadrons 16 and 20 because the boats assigned to the two commands have much different missions.
Trident submarines assigned to Squadron 20 carry ballistic nuclear missiles as a deterrent to nuclear attack.
Submarines assigned to Squadron 16 are converted Trident submarines that have been stripped of their arsenal of nuclear missiles. The two converted submarines at Kings Bay, USS Georgia and Florida, carry Tomahawk cruise missiles and conduct clandestine missions along coastal areas anywhere a terrorism threat exists.
The two commodores will be assigned in March and the staff should be fully in place by summer, said Lt. Rebecca Rebarich, public affairs officer for Submarine Group 10.
McNeill said the good news is the recommendation focuses on national defense and protecting the nation against nuclear attack. She said she has become concerned recently because of the emphasis on the war against terrorism and ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I think the fear is people will forget about the threat of nuclear attack," she said. "It always pays to be strong."
The recommendation also calls for increasing Trident Training Facility instructors and staff. The facility staff has been cut from 340 to 150 personnel in recent years.
"Most of these actions are approved and are under way," Rebarich said. "The timing for other actions is not yet certain but is being developed by Commander Submarine Forces, Fleet Forces Command and Chief of Navy Personnel."