KEYPORT, Wash (NNS) -- The gold crew of the Ohio-class guided missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN 727) conducted a change of ceremony at the Keyport Undersea Museum, November 9.
Capt. James Belz, from Ronkonkoma, New York, relieved Capt. Gustavo Gutierrez, from Miami, Florida, and assumed the duties and responsibilities of the Michigan gold crew commanding officer during the ceremony held in the Jack Murdock Auditorium.
"This crew has surprised me many times with their determination and ability to get things done," said Gutierrez. "They executed every certification with the outmost determination, completing a very challenging schedule. All this, after it being two years since their last deployment, and less than a year out from a 16-month shipyard maintenance period. Yes, we had our ups and downs, but demonstrating honor, courage and commitment, the crew never gave up, maintaining a positive attitude, and executing all tasking safely with energy and determination."
Gutierrez assumed command of the Michigan Gold crew, August 28, 2015. During his tour, the boat conducted the first guided missile submarine maintenance and modernization period with two crews working together. During this time, he oversaw necessary modifications to support the integration of the first enlisted women on submarines. The crew recently completed a western Pacific deployment, during which they made a scheduled port visit to Busan, Republic of Korea to foster relations between the U.S. Navy, ROK military and the local Busan community.
Under the leadership of Gutierrez, the boat was awarded the Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet 2016 Retention Excellence Award and the 2015 Battle Efficiency "E" Award. During the last five months, the crew qualified 325 watches, and 39 Sailors received their enlisted submarine warfare qualifications or "dolphins".
"Michigan, I'm honored that I had the opportunity to be your commanding officer for the past 27-months," said Gutierrez. "I'm equally certain that Capt. Belz is the right man to continue to take the Michigan towards continued success while forward-deployed in the 7th fleet."
Belz comes to Michigan Gold from Groton, Connecticut, where he served as the Deputy for Training at Submarine Squadron 4.
"Taking command of one of the deadliest submarines in our arsenal is not only a great honor, it's exciting," said Belz. "Capt. Gutierrez, thank you for handing over a great crew. Having gotten to ride on three separate occasions, I have been impressed each time with the crew's morale, cohesiveness, and work ethic."
Armed with tactical missiles and equipped with superior communications capabilities, Michigan has the ability to conduct large-volume short-notice strike missions and covertly deploy Special Operations Forces.
Michigan and its sister ship, USS Ohio (SSGN 726), are both homeported at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.
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