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USS Minnesota comes home to Groton, Conn.

GROTON, Conn. — One of the first attack submarines that women will serve on relocated to the Naval Submarine Base Friday. The USS Minnesota (SSN 783) left Norfolk, Va., where it was commissioned in September as the 10th Virginia-class submarine, on Wednesday for Groton, its new home port.

"It feels good to be finally up here," Capt. John W. Fancher, the submarine's commanding officer, said shortly after arriving. The submarine force needs every submarine it can get, Fancher said, and the sooner the Minnesota can support the fleet, the better. The Minnesota joins 15 submarines based in Groton.

"This is the beginning of the next chapter to get the boat ready to go out and do what submarines do for combatant commanders around the world," he said.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced in October that the Minnesota and the Groton-based USS Virginia (SSN 774) are the first two attack submarines that female officers will join. Women have served on ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarines since the Navy lifted its ban in 2010. "It's always nice to know you got picked to be the first to do something," Fancher said. "To me, what it means is, we have a good reputation and they know we can succeed."

The Navy plans to assign three female officers to each submarine: a supply corps officer who will act as a mentor and two nuclear-trained officers. They will arrive at the base by January 2015.

In the next year, Fancher said he is sure there will be some training and preparatory steps, but he has not been told the details. He said the crew is looking forward to it.

"It's an important step for the submarine force and the Navy, and we know we will be ready," he said.

The submarine will spend most of 2014 at Electric Boat for maintenance, repairs, alterations and testing, the vessel's "post-shakedown availability." After this period, a submarine will typically leave for its maiden six-month deployment within a year to a year and a half.

Fancher, who leads a crew of about 135, will turn over command of the Minnesota after more than three years in charge to Cmdr. Brian Tanaka, a Minnesota native, in late February. He said he is incredibly proud of the crew because of how well they have done their jobs and how respected they are.

Fancher will next serve as the deputy commander of Task Force 69 in Naples, Italy. He said he looks forward to seeing "Minnesota's name in lights in the future."

The sub and the crew, he said, "are going to continue doing great things."

j.mcdermott@theday.com
 

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