KINGS BAY, Ga. (NNS) -- USS West Virginia (SSBN 736) conducted a crew combination ceremony aboard Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Sept. 17.
Cmdr. Mike Katahara, commanding officer of the blue crew, was relieved by Cmdr. Steve Hall, commanding officer of the gold crew. Hall will remain in command of the submarine and the combined "green" crew.
The approximate 300 Sailors assigned to the two crews that alternate patrols on the West Virginia merge into one crew of about 110 sailors during the overhaul and refueling, which will be done at the Norfolk Navy Shipyard (NNSY) in Norfolk, Va., beginning in early 2011.
Katahara, who has led the blue crew since Oct. 2008, commanded his crew through three strategic deterrent patrols, a myriad of inspections, and three refit periods.
Under his tutelage, Katahara continuously raised the level of performance at each operational milestone. He routinely ensured his ship was at maximum operational and material readiness, supplying local and fleet commanders with a strategic asset capable of executing national tasking at a moments' notice.
Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, Commander Submarine Group 10, served as guest speaker at the ceremony.
"The measure of a good ship is not if it has issues, all ships have issues," said Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, commander Submarine Group 10. "The measure of a good ship is how you recover from your issues. Mike has done a phenomenal job and is leaving the boat better than when he gained it."
Katahara personal involvement with each crew member resulted in the boat receiving the Fleet Retention Excellence Award in 2008 and 2009, establishing a persistent culture of ownership, accountability and pride in service throughout the crew.
"Many Hawaiian sports teams take on the motto 'IMUA' which means the act of moving forward in a proactive and positive way despite barriers that exist," said Katahara. "This small, yet powerful Hawaiian word truly captures the essence of these West Virginian warriors. They are the heroes."
Katahara's next assignment is with Commander Strategic Systems Programs in Washington, D.C.
The Mighty West Virginia will now prepare for the approximate two-year refueling overhaul at NNSY, a vital part of the lifecycle of a SSBN. Ballistic missile submarines conduct a major overhaul near the mid-point of the submarine's service life, approximately 20 years, to recapitalize the vessel, and extend the useful life to maintain the required SSBN force level.
"West Virginia, there is no doubt we have a difficult road ahead," said Hall. "I think all of us would rather continue performing the strategic mission but the mission that confronts us now is equally important. I am confident we will get past all the obstacles and am looking forward to many great things from our green crew."
USS West Virginia is the third U.S. Navy ship to be named for the State of West Virginia and the 11th of 18 Ohio-class submarines. USS West Virginia was commissioned Oct. 14, 1990.
For more news from Commander, Submarine Group 10, visit www.navy.mil/local/csg10/.