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POSTED: June 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.

I hope that you all had a wonderful Memorial Day.

Traditionally, Memorial Day is set aside to honor and pay homage to those who have come before us, to those who have fallen in battle, to those who gave their lives for God and Country and to those who’ve survived to tell about it and remind us.

We are privileged, so privileged, just to be able to drive home from work without the fear of being arrested without just cause, to be able to raise our children as we see fit -- (or they see fit) -- and even to write newspaper columns -- all without fear of government reprisals or wrongful imprisonment.

We are compelled and honored to remember those who gave their lives in the name of freedom; in the name of Democracy; in the name of continued sensibility. Continued humanity.

We should start with those who have (and are) serving in Iraq. Those in Afghanistan. Those who served in Vietnam. Korea. WWII. WWI. And even the Spanish American War. Heck, my grandfather fought in WWI, as a member of the U.S. Army Band -- the BAND! He was armed only with a brass horn in the gas-filled trenches of France. Yes, I remembered him and his effort for "the cause" back then in 1918 - that’s 1918! Ninety years ago. If he were still alive, he would tell you that his cause then was no different than it is today.

My father was a decorated foot soldier in Patton’s 3rd Engineers in Germany and North Africa. Both he and my grandfather fought for the same reason. Simply to come home, to raise a family, to sleep without fear in their own beds and to breath freedom in the morning.

It all goes back to one of the earliest American flags. A coiled and ready snake, hissing out worldwide in proclamation, "Don’t Tread On Me." Well, our foreign policy hasn’t changed an iota since.

So, how did I spend this past Memorial Day Monday? I have to tell you, that I had the most incredible Memorial Day of my life.

I had a private tour of a nuclear submarine base and the USS Georgia (SSGN), docked at Kings Bay, Georgia. I even got to sit at her helm and climb up into the "sail," high above the 600 foot Trident "boat."

A week or two ago, I thought of going to the beach on Memorial Day, but when I and two other Richmond Hillites were invited down for a special VIP tour, I jumped at the chance.

Base Commander, Tom Prusinowski LCDR, was our host. (Note: I have to tell you here that whatever information I write from this point on has been cleared as public information).

Commander Tom met us at the gate, issued our security passes and lead the way to one the most incredible experiences on my life.

First stop was the undercarriage of the Trident nuclear sub, USS Rhode Island, suspended on massive blocks within a concrete chamber the size of a city block. Commander Tom was in charge of retrofitting her. She had steamed into the ten-story chamber. Then they removed the ocean in the tank and set her down slowly on wooden blocks. Thirty-three days in, no more - then out - 75 days - then back in. When she’s out, no one knows where she goes - not even other Trident subs.

I patted the Rhode Island’s massive steel belly, not more that a foot immediately above my head. 18,000 tons that literally "flies" underwater at classified speeds. She carries 24 multiple warhead ballistic missiles that every time her Captain takes her out, she becomes the third most powerful nation in the world.

The USS Rhode Island was but one of nine Trident nuclear class subs fitted out at King’s Bay. There are 18 total in America’s fleet. And Commander Tom informed us that King’s Bay was the largest submarine base in the "free" world. Eighteen Trident subs, each more powerful than any nation in the world save two - and one of those two being obviously "friendly."

It hit me then that this "silent" deterrent is gratefully in the control of a country that has no wish to use them other than to say, "Don’t Tread On Me."

We were then escorted onto the USS Georgia - a twin of her sister, the Rhode Island, only the Georgia was armed with twenty-four Tomahawk missiles - none nuclear. These armaments might very well be used in conventional encounters. We met the 23-year-old sub-mariner who programmed them. He told us that they could send them through a window six thousands miles away - that if told, the Tomahawk could "hover" for hours above its target until "instructed" to go in.

I sat at the helm of the Georgia. It wasn’t a "wheel" as we see in Hollywood flicks. It was a steel demi-wheel no larger than those found on a go-cart.

We climbed up to the "sail" - the hatch dome high above the deck. We visited the galley, the missile tubes and torpedo bays, the berths where nine sailors sleep stacked in bunks in a space no larger than a stripped SUV.

I bumped my head twice. It didn’t hurt.

We talked to a few of the mariners on board - all terrific young men maneuvering in restrictive and confined quarters.

We had dinner that night with Captain Brian McIlvane - the "Skipper" of the USS Georgia. We invited him to come to Richmond Hill in the Fall to speak about the Georgia and the Trident program. To let others in our area know just what an amazing silent guardian we have protecting our doors - both front and back.

He accepted.

So, when these Trident class boats go out for two and a half months, no one knows where they are. They are sent to quadrants and only the captain of each nuclear sub knows where his boat is going to hide in that quadrant. And they hide well.

At the end of our tour, we were told that there are only two sub-mariner running modes. "Silent." And "Absolute Silent."

An absolutely silent world power.

I slept really well when I got home Monday night. My father and grandfather would have understood.

 

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