Program Report: Christopher Perrien – USS NC SSN 777 Club and Youth Day

Several “opening acts” preceded the announced program.  First of all, Durham Rotary celebrated “Children’s Day.”  Several Rotarians brought children and grandchildren who introduced themselves.  Hopefully, these youngsters will be inspired to become Rotarians in the future.  Christopher Gergen introduced a new cohort of Innovation Fellows.  They will present a program in the fall.  Meg Solera introduced several Rotary scholars who are recipients of Centennial and Brown Family Scholarships.

Most North Carolinians are familiar with the USS North Carolina moored in the Cape Fear River in Wilmington.  Many have trod on the decks, explored battle stations and imagined what life was like on this highly decorated battleship that played an important role in the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II.  But few North Carolinians know a modern, Virginia-class fast attack submarine bears the name of the old North State, the fourth U.S. Navy warship to honor North Carolina.

Our main speaker, North Raleigh Rotarian Christopher Perrien is trying to remedy that.  Perrien, by the way, was masterfully introduced by Wyatt Jernigan, son of President Seth.  Future Rotarians need to keep an eye on Wyatt.  He will make a terrific Rotary president someday.

A graduate of the Naval Academy and retired IBM executive, Perrien is President and Executive Director of the USS North Carolina SSN 777 club.  The club’s goals include supporting the crews and families of the boat; increasing  awareness among North Carolinians of the “Tarheel Boat;” and raising funds to acquire the boat when it retires—maybe around 2048—and moor it in Wilmington along with Battleship North Carolina.

A few crew members of SSN 777 are North Carolinians.  Earlier this year, Gary Montalvo was piped ashore as commanding officer of the boat.  Montalvo grew up in Durham, attended the School of Science and Mathematics, and graduated from the Naval Academy.  Under his leadership the USS North Carolina earned the 2015 Battle “E” Award, recognizing it as the best boat and crew among the ten boats in Submarine Squadron 1 home-ported at Pearl Harbor.  As Perrien said, it’s the crews and technology of submarines like SSN 777 that keep the Chinese on their toes.

Perrien described the SSN 777 as a “long tube.”  Its length is approximately the distance of a home-run ball hit over right-center field in Durham Bulls Athletic Park.  The Virginia-class sub is built as a smaller and less expensive alternative to the Cold War era boats.  It can operate in littoral waters as well as deep ocean waters.  Its weaponry is lethal.

Perrien brought along a friend, Matthew Cox, who served on the USS Alaska, an older and larger Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine.  Matthew spoke and answered questions about life aboard submarines. The typical deployment is 180 days at sea, 92 percent of the time underwater.  Boats like the USS North Carolina carry a crew of 120 enlisted men and 14 officers.  Personal space  averages about 15 sq. feet.  A watch of six hours is followed by twelve hours off.  The wardroom is the center of social life.  Understandably, contact with families at home is very limited.  Usually, once a week submarines surface to give crews and families an opportunity for emailing.

Obviously, the service men and women of the submarine force make many sacrifices to earn their coveted dolphin pins and to ensure the nation’s security.

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

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