GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- Sailors raced aboard the Navy's newest, quietest and most heavily armed nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine Feb. 19 to "bring to life" USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23).
Named for the 39th president of the United States, the vessel was commissioned in ceremonies at Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn.
The third and final U.S. Navy submarine in the Seawolf class, the swift and silent boat can sail under the polar ice cap or through shallow water near shore, armed with cruise missiles, mines, torpedoes, unmanned undersea vehicles, surveillance sensors and naval special warfare forces.
Former President Jimmy Carter, accompanied by former first lady and ship's sponsor Rosalynn Carter, watched pierside among 2,400 people, including Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England and retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency under the then-commander in chief, principal speaker at the event.
The former president said the Navy and the submarine promote peace and stability through strength in the defense of freedom and democracy.
"We don't go to sea to go to war," Carter said during a tour of the sub. "We go to sea to preserve the peace."
Turner, a U.S. Naval Academy classmate of the former president, told the crew to look at the sub's namesake as a symbol of devotion to duty and the American ideals of liberty, human rights and democracy throughout the world.
"Do your best to make this the best ship it can possibly be," Turner told the crew. "Each of you should take that as a model for yourselves."
The one-of-a-kind vessel has all the capabilities of a Seawolf-class submarine, plus a 100-foot-long, 2,500-ton hull extension known as the multimission platform to test new generations of weapons and support Navy SEAL (sea, air and land forces) operations. Along with the ocean interface testbed platform, the vessel can be equipped with a dry deck shelter and can operate the Advanced SEAL Delivery System.
The 151-member crew will sail the 453-foot long, 12,139-ton submarine to its West Coast homeport, Naval Base Kitsap, Wash., later this year to join the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The undersea combatant, which has a 40-foot-beam, can travel at speeds in excess of 25 knots and dive greater than 800 feet.
General Dynamics Electric Boat Division assembled the submarine at its Groton, Conn., shipworks. The company also built sister ships USS Seawolf (SSN 21) and USS Connecticut (SSN 22).
The shipyard laid the newest sub's keel in December 1995. The vessel was floated off in May, and Rosalynn Carter christened USS Jimmy Carter in June. The sub's crew successfully completed initial sea trials in November.
"Although Jimmy Carter is technically the third ship of the class, the modifications make it a class of its own," said Electric Boat President John P. Casey. "The Navy has never seen a sub with the capabilities embodied in this ship."
The ship's seal bears the Latin motto "Semper Optima" meaning "Always the Best."
Fittingly, Carter, who trained in nuclear engineering, is the only White House chief executive to have served as a submariner. He was the senior officer on the Pre-Commissioning Unit Seawolf (SSN 575) in the 1950s.
Among his accomplishments while in the White House, the former president reached agreement on the Panama Canal treaties, brokered the Camp David Accord peace treaty and set up diplomatic relations with China. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 in recognition of his decades of promoting peace, and advancing democracy and human rights.
Capt. Robert D. Kelso, a native of Fayetteville, Tenn., and a 1983 graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, is the first commanding officer of USS Jimmy Carter. The captain is the son of retired Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, Chief of Naval Operations from 1990-94 and a former submariner.
For additional information on the commissioning of the Navy's newest submarine, log onto www.csg2.navy.mil.
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