USS Columbus submariners spread the love in visit to namesake city
By HOLLY ZACHARIAH | The Columbus Dispatch | Published: February 14, 2019
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — The young cadet listened to the sailors' tales about life as a submariner: what it's like to launch Tomahawk missiles from deep in the ocean; how it feels to transport Navy SEALs into enemy territory undetected; how to process salt water into drinking water to sustain a crew.
To 18-year-old Kyle Zborovsky, it all sounded exciting and like life would be one big adrenaline rush with about 130 of the closest buddies he would ever have. Yet he asked the question that was probably on everyone's mind in the classroom of Grove City High School's Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
"How do you deal with the stress of being underwater for such a long time?" Zborovsky asked the five men who visited his school Wednesday. "Doesn't it get to you?"
Master Chief Dustin Bruner, who serves as Chief of the Boat for the Los Angeles-class USS Columbus (SSN762), answered quickly.
"Nope," he said and told the cadets with a grin that, yes, sun does hurt a submariner's eyes and, yes, they're generally awfully pale. But then he added, "You have to buy into the logic that I'm doing this for a reason, that this is bigger than myself."
Five sailors from the Columbus area are in town through Saturday for a whirlwind tour of their boat's namesake city: Bruner; Cmdr. Peter French; Assistant Weapons Officer Lt. William Zupke; the boat's sailor of the year, Bradley Rumann, a nuclear-trained machinist's mate 1st Class; and junior sailor of the year, Yeoman 2nd Class David Baxter, a northeastern Ohio native.
The USS Columbus — with its 360-foot hull — was commissioned in Groton, Connecticut, in July 1993. It is normally based in Hawaii, but since last year, the nuclear-powered, fast-attack sub is down for an overhaul at the Navy shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. Since the crew was as close as it would likely ever be to Ohio, Cmdr. James Prouty arranged a visit.
Prouty, a former submariner, commands the Navy Operational Support Center at Rickenbacker International Airport, where he oversees about 600 Navy reservists.
"Namesake city visits are special," Prouty said. "When you're out there at sea, there's a lot of cleaning that goes on on a boat. You feel like you're fighting a war against dust bunnies. Connecting with the city that your vessel's named for reminds you why you are out there."
Naming Navy ships is often political, with cities forming committees to lobby for the honor and navigate the process. That's what happened in Franklin County more than 25 years ago. Now-retired columnist John Switzer went to Connecticut when the Columbus was commissioned "under blue skies, cotton-ball clouds and a fair sea breeze," he wrote.
At that ceremony, then-Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka told the crowd, "The overt threat to our country is at the lowest level in decades. Yet, history tells us we must always remain vigilant."
The sub's commander, Carl M. Smeigh Jr., responded: "We will proudly be your ambassador, carrying the name of Columbus, Ohio, throughout the world."
And that's just what they still do, Bruner said.
"When we are out there, we are trying to make Columbus proud of us," he said.
While in the city this week — aided by support from the USO of Central and Southern Ohio and the Columbus Base of U.S. Submarine Veterans Inc. — the sailors will tour the new National Veterans Memorial and Museum and will be on hand Saturday morning at the submarine display inside COSI Columbus to answer questions. They also will be recognized at the Columbus Blue Jackets game Thursday at Nationwide Arena against the New York Islanders.
For his part, Zborovsky said he learned a lot from Wednesday's visit. The high-school senior already has enlisted as an electronics technician with the Navy through a delayed-entry program and will enter basic training just a few weeks after graduation.
He learned that the time a sub can stay submerged is limited only by its food supply (about 120 days maximum, though 30- or 60-day stints are most common).
So will he try to be submariner?
"The brotherhood of it all sounds great," he said. "But this JROTC program has made a difference. I have a lot of options."