NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Vice Adm. John M. Richardson relieved Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly as Commander, Submarine Forces/Submarine Force Atlantic/Allied Submarine Command during a change of command and retirement ceremony, November 5, 2010, held onboard the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Montpelier (SSN 765) at Naval Station Norfolk.
During the ceremony, Donnelly, a second-generation submarine officer from Groton, Conn., retired from active duty after 35 years of Naval service as a commissioned officer.
As Commander, Submarine Forces since February 2007, Donnelly led the Undersea Enterprise and was responsible for establishing force wide strategies on core submarine issues such as force structure, budgetary requirements, and manpower. As Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic he was responsible for all Atlantic-based U.S. submarines, their crews, and supporting shore activities. As Commander, Allied Submarine Command, he was the principal advisor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on submarine plans, operations, and doctrine.
Addressing an audience of more than 700 attendees, Donnelly reflected on his tenure as the submarine force commander, while thanking his career mentors, peers, staff leaders, and the many people who supported the mission of the submarine force.
"When I took command as COMSUBFOR, I established three focus areas to align our efforts and improve our submarine force," said Donnelly. "They were titled operational excellence, the professional development of our people, and the modernization and recapitalization of our force. We've made significant progress in each area. I'll probably best be known as the guy who introduced women to the submarine force and banned smoking but my folks have accomplished much more than that in the past four years.
"I'm not going to bore you with a long summary of all those accomplishments. Instead, I'd like to speak about the submarine force today and how proud I am of the men and women who work so hard to make it the finest in the world. Our ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN) force command structure is better aligned today and that unity of command has brought more leadership focus on the all-important strategic deterrent mission. We split up Submarine Group Trident and reconstituted separate Submarine Group Commands, with Commander, Submarine Group 9 in Bangor, Wash., and Commander, Submarine Group 10 in Kings Bay, Ga. Each is led by a remarkably talented and energetic flag officer.
"We then realigned each of the operational SSBNs into Submarine Squadron 17 in Bangor and Squadron 20 in Kings Bay. Those two squadron commanders and their staffs are singularly focused on ensuring operational excellence in the strategic deterrent mission. The mission those crews perform is every bit as important today as it ever was, so I'm proud of the level of readiness of our SSBNs," he said.
Donnelly then explained the concept of the inception of the cruise-missile submarines (SSGN).
"When I was a young captain working in the Pentagon, I remember briefing the concept of the SSGN and the incredible capability that could be packaged onto that large platform. These are the four converted SSBNs that were no longer needed for the strategic deterrent mission. The concept quickly gained traction and rather than scrapping those fine submarines at their mid-life point, the nation spent roughly a billion dollars on each one for refueling, overhaul and conversion. All four have become operational during my tenure, and our SSGN crews are providing unprecedented cruise missile strike and special operations capabilities to the combatant commanders. This year all four of the submarines - USS Ohio, USS Florida, USS Michigan and USS Georgia - were all fully deployed simultaneously.
"There are thousands of people responsible for bringing our SSGNs to fruition including the design engineers at Electric Boat, Program Managers at Naval Sea Systems Command, artisans at our Naval Shipyards who did the conversion, and ultimately the well-trained SSGN crew members who take the ships to sea and perform so marvelously."
However, he emphasized that the backbone of the submarine force still remains the fast-attack submarines (SSN).
"The services for our SSNs are in great demand," said Donnelly. "Some pundits view these submarines as cold war relics but I would say nothing is further from the truth when it comes to warfighting, stealth, endurance, persistence, and mobility. Our SSNs go where others can't, and because of that our force is only meeting about half of the combatant commanders' demand for them.
"Our SSNs observe potential adversaries while they train and operate. Because our presence is not known, we see them as they really are. We gather the truth about their readiness and vulnerabilities that is so important for our combatant commanders to understand. Wherever the action is, our SSNs are already in position capable of immediate response if necessary.
"When I started my assignment as commander of the submarine force, we had just commissioned USS Texas which was our second Virginia-class SSN. Today, we have seven commissioned and the next ship in the class, California, will be christened tomorrow. Four more are under construction and this year we will double the construction rate to two per year. Earlier this year, USS Virginia completed the first six-month deployment for the class supporting both the Central Command and European Command while operating from the equator to the Arctic."
Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, was the featured speaker.
"Vice Adm. Donnelly, you took leadership skills to new heights as COMSUBFOR," said Greenert. "Your legacy is that you have made every command better, and led the submarine force into the future. You have been a leader who knew how to take care of Sailors, so take great pride in your accomplishments. You are a brilliant officer who has served with distinction and honor. Your legacy will endure long after retirement."
Greenert then presented Donnelly with the Distinguished Service Medal award recognizing him for his exceptional meritorious service to the government of the United States while superbly directing every aspect of submarine force operations and for his significant lasting contributions to the nation's defense.
Greenert also presented Mrs. Mimi Donnelly the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award recognizing her for her astute leadership and distinctive legacy while serving as the President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Dolphin Scholarship Foundation and as a Submarine Officer Spouse Association senior advisor, and for her boundless energy as spouse of the Submarine Force Commander.
Donnelly is a distinguished 1975 graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in physics. In addition, he received a Master of Science degree in engineering acoustics from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology Seminar XXI on Foreign Politics, International Relations, and National Interest.
His sea assignments have been as division officer on the Sturgeon-class submarine USS Tautog (SSN 639), home ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; as engineer officer on the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Memphis (SSN 691), home ported in Groton, Conn.; as executive officer on the ballistic submarine USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN 641), home ported in Charleston, S.C.; as commanding officer on the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN 709), home ported in Norfolk, Va.; and as commanding officer on the submarine tender USS McKee (AS 41), home ported in San Diego, Calif.
His shore assignments have included the U.S. Naval Academy as a physics instructor; assistant for Undersea Warfare and Strategic Issues for the Chief of Naval Operations executive panel staff in Washington, D.C.; assistant for Plans and Liaison for the Deputy Chief Of Naval Operations for Submarine Warfare Requirements in Washington, D.C; and Chief of Staff for Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan. While on the staff at Seventh Fleet he was selected for flag rank.
Donnelly's assignments following his selection to admiral include Director of Combat Plans and Deputy Director for Operations and Logistics at U.S. Strategic Command in Offutt, Neb.; Commander, Submarine Group Seven in Yokosuka, Japan; and Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff, U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
"Now if this were only a change of command ceremony, I'd read my orders and take my seat," said Donnelly. "But this ceremony is also my retirement, and if you'll bear with me for a few more minutes, I'd like to reflect briefly on the part of my career before I came to COMSUBFOR. I never expected to stay in the Navy this long or progress this far in my naval career. It's been a tremendous honor to wear this uniform and serve alongside some of the finest people this nation produces.
"Every naval leader I've met says that our people are our greatest resource. It is absolutely true. I joined the submarine force because of the exceptional people and that is why I've stayed. I've learned from some inspirational leaders. Several are here today. Along the way, I've made some great life-long friends. It began with my Naval Academy classmates and has extended to shipmates from six afloat commands and staff members from my shore assignments.
"It's been an incredible 35-year adventure. I've completely circumnavigated the globe. I've visited 38 countries. I've been fortunate to serve in command four times – that's exactly three more than my initial stretch goal. I'll never forget the feeling I had as CO standing atop the sail of my submarine heading for deep water so we could dive and disappear. Only a submariner can fully appreciate the close camaraderie of a submarine crew or tolerate the practical jokes we played on each other. I'll always remember the joy of watching subordinates achieve successes they never thought possible. I smile every time I see a homecoming and recall the joy of reuniting with family after a six-month deployment."
Donnelly stated that his journey would have been empty without a family to share it with.
"But none of those adventures would have been very meaningful had I not been able to share them with my family. The real secret of my success has been my loving wife, Mimi. We were married just before I started nuclear prototype training. There was no honeymoon – a fact she reminds me of often. That was the first of our 21 moves together. Sweetheart, I could not have done this without and I wouldn't have wanted to. Thank you!
"We've been blessed with three wonderful children who make us proud beyond words. All are in the family business. Michael and his wife Megan are both P-3 Orion pilots and stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas as flight instructors. Christopher and his new bride Renee are in the process of moving from Groton, Conn. to Hawaii where he will be the Supply Officer on the guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal. Sara is stationed in Lemoore, Calif., with Fighter Attack Squadron 41 where she flies in the back seat of the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Kids, you have each made a lot of sacrifices for me as we've pulled you out of schools and separated you from childhood friends but you turned out OK. I am truly a lucky man!
"My mom is here today, as are my two brothers with their families. My dad was a diesel boat submarine officer, and he retired from the Navy the same day I took the oath of office on induction day at the Naval Academy. Together we've had an unbroken string of Donnelly naval service since he began in the Yale ROTC program in 1947. I'm wearing his sword as I do for all such ceremonies. He's no longer with us but I'm sure he's here in spirit today. He is the reason I wanted to join the Navy and become a submarine officer."
While losing the leader of the submarine force to retirement, Greenert is confident the force's newest leader is ready for the challenge.
"There is no better man to relieve Vice Adm. Donnelly that Vice Adm. Richardson," said Greenert. "He has impeccable submarine credentials, and has demonstrated the highest courage and skill. He is easy to trust, and possesses a strong joint experience. He and his wife are exactly the right couple to maintain momentum of the force, and I am confident the legacy of success in the submarine force will continue."
Before assuming command of the submarine forces, Richardson's last assignment was in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of responsibility where he served as the Chief of Staff, Director, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, Operations and Intelligence; Deputy Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet; Commander Submarines, Allied Naval Forces South; and Commander, Submarine Group Eight.
"As I was preparing these remarks and trying different approaches, it became clear that the only thing I really wanted to express was how deeply honored and grateful my wife, Dana, and I for this opportunity," said Richardson. "This is a gift - to be allowed to continue to serve our Navy and submarine force. It would have never happened without the help of a lot of friends and mentors. Any success we've had so far, and will have, is because of your support and guidance. I express our thanks, because many of you have taken the time to travel long distances to join us here today.
"Vice Adm. Donnelly and Mimi, we would like to thank you both very much. You both had a magnificent tour as COMSUBFOR, and I want to add our personal thanks for a very gracious and thorough turnover. You both ensured our return from Italy went as smooth as possible and that we learned as much as possible about the force as you have over the past three years.
"The submarine force is in super shape, manned by a team that has no match. There are plenty of challenges ahead, and we're anxious to get started."
For more information on the submarine force visit the Submarine Force web site at: www.sublant.navy.mil.
For more news from Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/sublant/.