BANGOR — The Navy always has a way of replacing one great leader with another," Rear Adm. James Caldwell Jr. said Wednesday during a change-of-command ceremony featuring the past three Submarine Group 9 commanders.
Rear Adm. Dietrich Kuhlmann III relieved Rear Adm. Robert Hennegan, who had taken over for Caldwell two years ago.
Relinquishing command is hard, said Caldwell, now directing Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet. No matter the accomplishments, there always are more aspirations. Caldwell's were in the good hands of longtime friend and look-alike Hennegan, who relieved him Oct. 29, 2010.
"Precisely the visions I had, Bob took to the next level," Caldwell said. "Bob, you crushed this job."
Submarine Group 9 comprises eight Trident ballistic-missile submarines and two that were converted to carry cruise missiles and special forces. In July, the ballistic missile fleet, including six boats at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay (Ga.), received the Meritorious Unit Commendation from Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert for excellence in strategic deterrence from July 16, 2007, to Jan. 28, 2011. That spanned the Bangor tours of both Caldwell and Hennegan. Also during Hennegan's stay, women were integrated onto two Bangor subs, and boats made 35 strategic deterrent patrols and 22 forward-deployed missions.
"I believed Bangor was the best in the Navy when I was up here and it's only gotten better under Bob's leadership," Caldwell told a crowd of about 200 Navy and civilian leaders under tents at Deterrent Park.
Progress is expected to continue under Kuhlmann, whose previous assignment was with the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C.
"We've got the right guy in place, and it's time for me to go," said Hennegan, who's headed to San Diego to head the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command.
Hennegan thanked Team Bangor, including staff members, ombudsmen, support commands and, especially, the submariners — the "warriors at the top of the spear," the "ultimate peacekeepers."
The CNO and two Air Force generals lauded the sailors in July when they picked up the meritorious unit award for maintaining peace through deterrence.
"Now you're going to hear it from me, Hennegan told a formation of sailors from each boat. "Thank you for your great service to our country. I'm asking for one last round of applause for these sailors."
That's the only time the admiral's voice cracked, perhaps steeled by the experience last time he and Caldwell were on the same stage two years earlier. Both became emotional, and Caldwell's mother told them to stop being such crybabies, said Hennegan, who received a Legion of Merit award for his work at Bangor.
Kuhlmann knows his way around the area. His first submarine assignment was aboard the ballistic-missile sub USS Florida. He later commanded the USS Michigan before and after it was converted to cruise missiles.
"I feel like I'm back home," he said.