Greater Chattanooga Navy League Visits USS Tennessee SSBN 734

Monday, June 10, 2019 - by Ron Galante

After months of planning, the Greater Chattanooga Navy League sponsored a two-day trip to visit Kings Bay Naval base and tour the USS Tennessee SSBN 734 that was held on May 31 and June 1.  The USS TN SSBN 734 is the ninth ship in the OHIO class of Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines and the second ship in the Navy to bear the name of the state.

Greater Chattanooga Navy League Board members who attended this trip were: President, Stacy Kehoe; Board of Director Military Affairs, CDR Alden Perry, USN (RET); Secretary, David Smith; CDR Larson Mick, USN (RET); and Board of Director Ron Galante, Navy Submarine Veteran.  Mr. Galante was our organizer not only for this trip but for the past years’ trips in both 2014 and 2016. 

This is the third trip that was coordinated to visit the USS Tennessee and its crew.  Other trips were held in 2016 and 2014.  While this trip was the easiest to organize, it still took six months to plan and execute from start to finish and resulted in a 6-inch high stack of documentation. 

Thirty of us boarded the 55 passenger US Coachway’s bus at McCallie school at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, May 31, and we departed before 8 a.m.  Plenty of bottled water and snacks were provided for the near 8- hour bus ride each way to and from Kings Bay. 

Of course, we watched submarine movies both travelling to Kings Bay and returning to Chattanooga:   

Das Boat- Iconic drama of a WWII German Diesel Submarine exploits in the Atlantic.
Hunt for Red October- Modern-day high-tech drama of a Soviet nuclear submarine defecting to the U.S.
Missile Submarines- Very interesting factual History Channel documentary of the origins and current status of nuclear missile submarines.
Run Silent Run Deep- Iconic drama of a WWII American Diesel Submarine exploits in the Pacific.
Operation Pacific- John Wayne starred in this drama of a WWII American Diesel submarine operating in the Pacific (includes an indication of how the early WWII American torpedo problems were solved).
Operation Petticoat- Comedy Academy Award nominee of WWII Diesel pink submarine 
Regulus- Documentary story of the first Nuclear Missile submarines  

On Friday, May 31, we had the honor to have a private dinner at the nearby Millhouse Steakhouse. We were able to eat with 20 crew members and their wives during dinner.  President of the Greater Chattanooga Navy League Stacy Kehoe started with opening comments thanking the USS TN Blue and Gold crews for attending the dinner and for them taking their personal time to attend the dinner and for tour on Saturday, June 1.   Board Director Ron Galante, a Submarine veteran, himself, made additional comments thanking both crews, and especially his point of contact for the trip, ENS Jason Wollberg.  ENS Wollberg is the Gold Crew’s Supply Officer.  We presented the command representatives of both the gold and blue crews with reading materials for their leisure hours on their long deterrent patrols. The gold crew captain, executive officer, chief of the boat and supply officer received personalize and autographed copies of hard cover submarine adventure books donated by and written by Rick Campbell a retired submarine officer now turned novelist. Paper back copies of these same books were also donated to the ship’s library. The gold and blue crew captains, executive officers, chief of the boats and ENS Wollberg the gold crew supply officer received Tennessee History coffee table books, which were signed by Congressman Fleischmann. All 20 of the crew and their wives received our Chattanooga Navy League challenge coins. 

At the end of the evening spent with the crew and our attendees, we boarded our bus and returned to the Microtel.

On Saturday morning, we boarded the bus and headed for our trip to the Kings Bay Naval Base and to the waterfront where the USS Tennessee was docked.   

Before we entered the Kings Bay main gate, we stopped by the USS George Bancroft SSBN-643 memorial. The USS George Bancroft was commissioned on Jan. 22, 1966 and decommissioned Sept. 21, 1993 and now its superstructure serves as an ideal non-confidential photographic backdrop for groups, families and individuals. 

After going through multiple levels of security clearance procedures at the main gate, waterfront and at the boat, we finally gained access to the USS Tennessee. We were divided into four groups and assigned to four different crew members who guided us through several compartments and areas, such as the control room, torpedo room, sonar shack, clean air manufacturing location, missile compartment, missile control center, etc. The tour took over two hours and was highlighted by information shared by each group’s crew-member guide, as well as on-station crew to explain what was done by them at that particular location and to answer our many questions. In many cases the answer to a question was: “That’s classified and I will not be able to answer that question.” However, there still were many questions answered and that combined with what the crew explained about their responsibilities.  

During our tour of the USS Tennessee we shared the boat not only with the crew but it was family day and many family members were also touring the boat. It was interesting to see the crew’s children, parents, wives, etc. touring the boat. This is a great opportunity for the crew’s family to learn more about where their loved one works while out on a long deterrent patrol.

After the tour of the boat was over and the bus left the Naval base, we stopped by a nearby display of full-sized ballistic missiles that have been used by SSBN submarines since the early 1960s to the current time. 

From 1960 to 1976, the United States operated it’s SSBN fleet of submarines from three international bases located in Spain, Scotland and Guam, because the ranges of these earlier missiles required that these submarines would be required to make deterrent patrols in the Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic and Pacific oceans to be able reach their assigned cold war targets should they be required to launch their missiles. These bases were closed when the C-4 became operational. The C-4 missile first flew in January, 1977. The missiles that are currently used by the USS Tennessee are the D5. 

After our missile display visit, we departed for a great lunch at Lang’s Marina restaurant in St. Mary’s, which was only two blocks from the St. Mary’s Submarine museum. After lunch, we walked the short distance to the St. Mary’s museum where we were given a very interesting 30-minute presentation about the history of the museum, some of the more interesting exhibits at the museum and other facts about the curator. Reb Burton was rewarded with a museum challenge coin, since he remembered the name of the submarine the curator, Keith Post, mentioned during his speech as having served on first during his submarine career. The Nathan Hale was the answer.    

We arrived back at McCallie’s at roughly midnight to pick up our cars, which were located in a secure parking lot. We are thankful and fortunate to have had McCallie give us permission to park our cars in their parking lot and to load and unload our bus at the school. 

We each headed home, tired but satisfied in the knowledge that the United States SSBN submarine force was certainly being operated by the world’s best trained submariners serving on the world’s most powerful submarines.        

While we had a lot of special guests on this trip, one person, in particular, stood out among the rest. One of those guests, retired Army and Navy veteran Phil Redick wrote the following:

“On May 31st I was privileged to participate on a  Chattanooga Navy League 2 day tour visit to the Ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee SSBN 743 at Kings Bay naval base Georgia.

"The trip from Chattanooga to Kings Bay is  an eight hour bus ride one way and was made quite pleasant thanks to the organizational abilities and thought fullness of tour coordinator, Ron Galante.

"Ron organized lunch stops, snacks and water for the trip and bookings at a Microtel. We had a joint dinner the evening of arrival with the Tennessee Commanding Officers of the CDR Schaffner Gold & CDR Seitz Blue crews. They each introduced members of their respective USS Tennessee gold and blue crews.

"The tour of the submarine was an experience of a life time thanks to the crew member tour guides provided by the USS Tennessee. They are obviously outstanding individuals courteous and extremely competent at explaining the organization and operations of something as complex as a nuclear submarine. These sailors made the trip and visit a memorable one which I will never forget. 

"They make one proud to be an American and thankful that we have such talented and dedicated individuals in our Navy. It is only fitting to thank all those who made the trip so special by using an old and traditional Navy custom. There can be no more sincere or appropriate compliment to the submarine point of contact ENS Jason Wollberg, tour coordinator Ron Galante, and each sailor tour guide. a sincere, well done."

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