MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (NNS) -- The premier ballroom at the MGM Grand Hotel at Foxwoods roared to life April 10 with more than 2,200 guests in attendance at the 110th Annual Submarine Birthday Ball.
The event was described as "spectacular" by many of the guests and was the result of months of planning and hard work by the committee.
"It was befitting of a Sub Ball in the 'Submarine Capitol of the World,'" said Master Chief Rafael Perez, Command Master Chief for Submarine Group 2 and master of ceremonies. "I think this is the best one the Navy ever had."
In addition, submariners and their families, spanning generations of more than 70 years, were on hand to celebrate the 50th anniversary of USS Triton's circumnavigation of the globe. Sailors swapped sea stories as they compared the achievements and advances in submarine technology over the decades.
During the ball, ceremonies honoring boats and crews lost at sea reminded all of the sacrifices and courage of underwater sea warriors through the years.
Robert Burr, a retired Chief Mess Specialist (a rate now known as Culinary Specialist) was honored as the most senior submarine qualified enlisted Sailor. The 95-year-old received his "Dolphins" in 1938. "Dolphins" are a submarine warfare insignia worn by enlisted and officers that signifies a Sailor is proficient in using all the systems aboard the submarine.
"I knew submarines were something special," Burr said.
Burr and retired Lt. Ernie Plantz, the most senior submarine qualified officer, joined Electronics Technician Seaman Michael Hatchett, 22, from USS Miami (SSN 755), the newest submarine qualified Sailor, for a cake cutting ceremony. Hatchett received his "Dolphins" on April 9.
"This makes me really proud to be part of the submarine force," said Hatchett. "It's an experience I won't forget."
Lt. j.g. Cory Mayer of USS Memphis was also honored as the newest submarine qualified officer, receiving his "Dolphins" the morning of the ball.
Another highlight of the evening was this year's keynote speaker, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Rick West. The MCPON recognized the hard work of "Team New London" submariners and underscored the sacrifices of families who support their Sailors.
West, a career submariner, encouraged Sailors to enjoy this portion of their careers. During a meeting with Sailors earlier in the week at Naval Submarine Base New London, West described his love for submarine duty.
"This is the stuff that motivates me. I love being a submariner - the life, the smell, getting underway. This is what we do," said West.
He encouraged Sailors to take advantage of every opportunity.
"When the Navy offers you something, take it," West said. "Achieve as much as the Navy will let you."
West also reminded Sailors of the importance of professionalism and respect, calling those qualities "two of the most important elements of success."
A surprise highlight of the evening was the unexpected appearance of country music artists The Oak Ridge Boys. In town for another event at Foxwoods, the group took time to stop by and addressed ball attendees, showing their appreciation for the sacrifices and hard work of the Navy.
"We thank you, and we are proud of you," said Joe Bonsall, tenor singer for the Oaks. "You guys are the real stars."
Perez said he was amazed at the level of support the group gives the military.
"This is really special - that they would take the time to come here and recognize us," said Perez, who has attended 19 submarine balls throughout the world during his career. "In my 24 years of service, this was tops."
The submarine ball commemorates the anniversary of the U.S. Navy's Submarine Force. On April 11, 1900, the U.S. Navy purchased John Philip Holland's revolutionary submarine and renamed it the USS Holland (SS-1), America's first commissioned submarine. Since then, submariners have been patrolling the depths of our oceans, taking the fight to enemies and providing maritime security around the world.
For more news from Commander Submarine Group 2, visit www.navy.mil/local/Subgru2/.