It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since our fast-attack submarine U.S.S. Missouri SSN-780 was commissioned. Commissioning tradition in the United States Navy dates back to the Revolutionary War when John Paul Jones raised the flag on the warship Alfred. Alfred came alive and became the first warship in the Continental Navy.
This tradition continues to this day, and on July 31, 2010, the submarine Missouri officially became a ship of the United States Navy. The Navy cannot use taxpayer money to host events leading up to the commissioning, so namesake states and cities oversee and fund all activities, receptions and gifts given to their ships. In 2008, Gov. Matt Blunt appointed me the chairman of the U.S.S.-Missouri Commissioning Committee. This committee was composed of residents from all over the state and included retired military, legislators, one battleship Missouri crew member and patriotic Missourians. All told, we raised almost half a million dollars and provided our submarine with a Silver Service, an original oil painting by local artist Jim Dyke, sports collectibles from all our Missouri teams and hosted receptions before and after the commissioning. At the post-commissioning luncheon, we fed more than 4,000 people Kansas City barbecue. It was a wonderful celebration for our newest U.S.S. Missouri!
July 31, 2010, dawned a beautiful, sunny day, with a gentle breeze blowing up the Thames River. Our submarine was tied to the pier at the Naval Submarine Base, Groton, Connecticut, with a huge Missouri state flag covering her sail. The crew as at attention in dress whites, and guests on the platform included Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, other VIPs and me.
The principal speaker was U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who was instrumental in adding the U.S.S. Missouri SSN-780 to the fleet. His father served in the Navy on the second U.S.S. Missouri BB-11 before World War I, and Ike has always been a great friend of the United States Navy. His wife, Susie, was the ship's sponsor of the U.S.S. Jefferson City SSN-759, and the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Harry S Truman CVN-75 honored Congressman Skelton. It is because of his great support of the military that today Missouri has Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base — and the "Missouri Navy" has more namesake shops than any other state. We have added this U.S.S. Kansas City LCS-22 and U.S.S. St. Louis LCS-19 to the fleet this year.
Back to our submarine: The story of this Missouri started Sept. 27, 2008, with the keel-laying ceremony at Groton, Connecticut. The ship's sponsor, Rebecca Gates, wife of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates welded her initials into the ship's keel. I was also in attendance, but they didn't let me add my initials.
The Missouri was built in modular sections at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, and Newport News, Virginia. The sections were then barged to Groton's Electric Boat yard and assembled as one there. This is all done in a huge building capable of holding two submarines at a time. At the Missouri keel-laying, the keel for the U.S.S. California occupied the space to her side. Our boat (all submarines are referred to as boats, even though by tonage they weigh as much as a World War II cruiser) was christened on a very rainy Dec. 5, 2009.
The Missouri is 377 feet long, has a beam of 34 feet, weighs in at 7,800 tons, tops speed in excess of 25 knots (30 miles per hour) and can dive deeper than 800 feet. Speed and depth are classified, but she can go much faster and dive deeper than these numbers. She has one 59G pressurized water nuclear reactor that will never need refueling during her life. In comparison, the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant at Reform is also a pressurized water nuclear reactor but requires refueling every 18 months. What a difference 30 years makes!
The U.S.S. Missouri is a fast-attack submarine and carries 12 vertical launch Tomahawk cruise missiles and four torpedo tubes that can launch Mark 48 torpedoes or mines. Immediately aft of the sail is a lockout trunk, an airlock chamber that allows an entire special forces team to exit and re-enter the submarine as a group. When the fast-attack submarine U.S.S. Jefferson City SSN-759 was commissioned in 1992, her main mission was to protect carrier task groups and hunt other submarines. Today's fast-attack submarine missions are more stealth and covert. The U.S.S. Missouri can deploy from Pearl Harbor and be anywhere in the world — under the Arctic ice, off the China coast or in the Persian Gulf.
The most important pieces of equipment on this boat are the officers and men who serve on her. The original crew number was about 134, although numbers can vary by deployment and mission.
The U.S.S. Missouri has been very fortunate to have great captains. Cmdr. Tim Rexrode was her first commanding officer (2009-12) and commissioned her in July 2010. Rexrode was succeeded by Cmdr. Michael Luckett (2012-15); and Cmdr. Fraser Hudson succeeded him (2015-17). Her current captain is Cmdr. George Howell, and he brought the U.S.S. Missouri from Groton to her new import at Pearl Harbor in January 2018.
Gov. Mike Parson — the lieutenant governor at the time — and I joined the U.S.S. Missouri at sea, and we rode her into Pearl Harbor. Navy ships first render honors to the U.S.S. Arizona memorial, and then we saluted the Battleship Missouri.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment to ride our namesake submarine and pause alongside our great namesake battleship. I am so proud of all our ships of the "Missouri Navy."
Happy 10th birthday, U.S.S. Missouri!
This article was written with the assistance of my able secretary of the U.S.S. Missouri Commissioning Committee, Ed Gray.
Sam Bushman is the presiding commissioner on the Cole County Commission. He shares his perspective each month on county issues. He can be reached at [email protected]