GROTON, CONN. — The distance between the deck of the Navy's newest nuclear submarineand the streets of Maryland's capital is a lot shorter than you might think.
Members of the ship's crew, who have spent more than a year preparing the USS Annapolis for sea duty, say it's more than just a name that ties them to the city.
For close to two years, city leaders and members of a local groupcalled The USS Annapolis Commemorative Committee have been at work, raising money to pay for some "Welcome to our family" gifts for the crew.
An aerial photo of the city hangs above the officer's dining table. Crew members have been given commemorative dog tags engraved with the launch and commissioning dates.
A local radio station has donated 400 compact disks and pledged a continuing supply, while another organization has donated the money for a CD player for the cabin mess.
"With the support of the city, it makes it really feel like home, like we're doing something for somebody instead of just the Navy," said Chief Petty Officer Fred Goff, of Perry Hall.
Goff said he was hoping to serve on the USS Maryland, now under construction. The "luck of the draw" put him on the Annapolis.
"Annapolis has doneus well," said Goff, an 11-year veteran who re-enlisted in the city in 1990. "We couldn't be happier."
Jay Danna, a machinist mate 3rdclass, requested duty on the submarine bearing the city's name when he enlisted a little more than a year ago.
"It gives me a great feeling, a sense of pride in my hometown. I like going into the stateroom and seeing a picture of my hometown. It makes me feel really good."
More than 100 Annapolitans traveled to Groton yesterday to give the ship and its crew of 145 a send-off at its commissioning ceremonies. Receptions and special below-deck tours attracted several hundredpeople to the submarine base and the town.
The delegation was headed by Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins. His presentation to the ship's captain, Cmdr. Richard Severinghaus, was the silver punch bowl and ladle that was on board the original USS Annapolis in 1897.
That ship, a gunboat that saw action in the Spanish-American War, remained in service until 1940; it was replaced four years later by a patrol escort boat bearing the city's name. The third Annapolis was a converted escort carrier from World War II that saw duty as a communication ship during the Vietnam War.
The silver service was lost for a number of years until the bowl and ladle turned up on a Navy ship, The Hayler, docked in Norfolk, Va.
Hopkins, a history buff and former Navy enlisted man, had the two pieces restored and returned to their rightful place.
As the first tenants of the newest USS Annapolis, the captain and crew are de facto public relations specialists, answering questions and allowing the public to take a rare peek at their office andhome. Most say they've enjoyed the opportunity.
"It's been very interesting to meet the people from Annapolis and see how they've taken to the ship," said Petty Officer Raymond Powell, of Salisbury. "It helps us to know that someone other than our families are on our side."
Said Goff, "It's wonderful. The submarine service is very secretive, so when we get the opportunity to show off our wares, it's a bonus."
Goff and Danna hope to show off the city next month when thesubmarine visits Annapolis during Naval Academy commissioning week.
"A lot of members of the crew haven't been there. The history of Annapolis is amazing," said Goff.
However, while Annapolitans will be able to gawk at the Navy's newest marvel, Goff says he won't be able to show his shipmates Maryland's latest attraction -- Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"Unfortunately, the Orioles aren't home," he said. "I've already checked."