Serving on the Jimmy Carter
Today, the blogosphere erupted in (mostly) good-natured humor as people finally realized that the Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) was about to be commissioned. While there were a lot of "attack rabbit" and peanut jokes (even from Frank J. ) there were many other posts which seriously questioned if President Carter should have been honored by the naming of a warship for him. To this question, my answer is an unqualified "yes".
First, a disclaimer. Yes, I served on the crew of the Jimmy Carter as the Engineer (Engineering Department Head) before I retired. (For those with a superficial knowledge of submarine personnel assignment procedures who may question this: the boat manned up in April, 2001. The Navy, recognizing the the long time between initial manning and the boat putting to sea in 2004 would mean that someone doing a normal 3 year Eng tour would not get any sea time, decided to bring in a served Engineer for a special "Post-DH Shore Tour" to be Eng for the first two years. Since I had already been the new construction Eng for the previous Seawolf, and was coming up for orders, they picked me.) I'm proud of my service on this unique boat, and wanted to share with you why I think the Navy did right by honoring President Carter.
Jimmy Carter is unarguably the most famous submariner in the world; not because he is a submariner, but in the same way that President Bush is the most famous former baseball team owner in the world. There are many people who disagree of the actions that Carter took as President, with his statements and actions since being voted out of office, and with his choice of family members. That's OK; as Americans we are allowed to criticize our leaders, past and present. I disagree with their apparent premise that his actions as President or since render him morally ineligible to be honored with the naming of a warship after him, and here's why. Despite what people may think about his beliefs or motives, I have never heard anyone say that he is not acting on his true beliefs. This, I don't think, can be said about other recent Democrat Presidents or presidential candidates. President Carter stood watch as Commander-in-Chief during the Cold War, when he had to live with the possibility that he might be awoken any night with the news that NORAD had detected a missile launch, and he had to decide what to do right away. Most of us remember how much the Presidency aged him; it's a tough job, and I admire anyone who can make it through 4 years of that stress. As long as ships are being named for political figures, I think that Jimmy Carter has as much right to claim that honor as anyone.
My first CO on the Carter shared this story: when he and his wife went to Georgia to visit President and Mrs. Carter, my Captain talked with Carter for about an hour in Carter's office. He noted that of all the memorabilia on the walls, there were only a few items from his Presidency, and an entire wall from when he served in the Submarine Force. Later, President and Mrs. Carter came to Groton, CT, with several members of their family, to meet with the crew and see the ship as she was being built. He spoke with passion about how honored he was to have the ship named for him, and in his abiding interest in protecting the national security of the United States. Although many don't believe that his actions, past or present, truly accomplished that goal, I think that he truly believes that by reducing tensions in the world, the U.S. will be safer. Simplistic? Probably. Naïve? I'd say so. Evidence that he supports our adversaries, or wishes the United States harm? No.
If anything, I'd say the Carter administration is evidence that submariners, being as a general rule micromanagers, probably aren't suited for the Presidency. However, I do believe that his well-intentioned service to our country, and the respect that is due the office which he held, make the naming of the world's most capable attack submarine after the profession's most widely-known practitioner a correct action. I am proud to have served on this vessel, and wish continued success for the crew as they get ready to really start having fun!
Staying at PD...