Friendship Fire Welcomes USS Alexandria

Friendship Fire Welcomes USS Alexandria

Annual gathering packs the Holiday Inn ballroom — as usual.

U.S. Navy 21st century technology and fire power joined the birthday celebration for an 18th century land General who used a stealth water crossing to accomplish one of his best known victories. For both the General and the Commander of the modern vessel invisibility was and is an asset.

During their annual George Washington's Birthday Celebration Breakfast Meeting Monday morning, members and guests of Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association were treated to the intricacies and capabilities of the USS Alexandria, a U.S. Navy, Los Angeles class, attack submarine named for this city and Alexandria, La. Their tour guide was Navy Commander Thomas J. Kearney, captain of the nearly seven-ton boat.

It was also the opportunity for the association to honor one of Alexandria's most acclaimed citizens and long-time public elected official who has served 23 years as a member of the Virginia General Assembly and was a founder of the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Marian Van Landingham (D-45) was named the 2005 recipient of the Rev. Ben Lynt Distinguish Service Award, the organization's highest honor.

"She has also been a faithful and long time supporter of Friendship Fire Association," said Ed Snyder, president, FVFEA, in presenting Van Landingham with the award. She recently announced her retirement from public office at the end of this term.

"It has been a great honor to represent Alexandria throughout these years. And, I intend to continue to support this city as long as I can," said Van Landingham in accepting the recognition.

ALSO HONORED at the event, held at the Holiday Inn and Conference Center on First Street, were members of Alexandria Fire Department's Marine Operations Team. Captain Rodney Masser along with Firefighters Tina Early and Thomas Wheatley were recognized for their actions Jan. 10, in rescuing Johnathan Godfrey following a medevac helicopter crash into the Potomac River.

Godfrey and his family were present to join in recognizing the team members. Their actions that night, operating the department's new fireboat on its maiden rescue mission, was also praised by city Fire Chief Gary Mesaris and perennial master of ceremonies, radio personality Bill Mayhugh, who described their actions in detail.

Prior to Kearney's presentation concerning the USS Alexandria's historic voyage under the North Pole and around the world, the association named Alexandria's new city manager, Jim Hartmann, a member of the association. Formed in 1774 the association lists among its members most U.S. president's, starting with Washington, as well as a host of national dignitaries and celebrities.

"This is a great association and I commend you on your preservation activities. This city appreciates history. And we also have one of the finest fire departments in the country," Hartmann said.

ALSO GAINING membership at this year's meeting were Mark Penn, head of Alexandria's Emergency Management, and Mike Zuidema, an Alexandria firefighter. Penn is the son and Zuidema the son-in-law of the late Milton Penn a former city Fire Department chief.

Joining Kearney were seven members from his 150-man crew which he described as "the best of the best." Working from a large diagram mounted on a tripod, Kearney gave the audience a detailed description of the submarine's makeup and fire power.

"The deployment from which we just returned was for six months, which is normal for us. But the route we took to get to get to our tasked designation, the Pacific, was not," Kearney said.

He described how they traveled under the North Pole navigating the polar cap and ice shards at times no more than 25 feet off the ocean floor. During one period of their journey they did not surface for six weeks.

The USS Alexandria is 360 feet long, propelled by nuclear reactors that do not need to be refueled "for 10 years," according to Kearney. "However, the new class of subs don't need their reactors refueled for 30 years. That reactor core acts like a big tea kettle. It makes steam to drive the turbines," he said.

HIS BOAT carries 12 vertical launch Tomahawk cruise missiles plus torpedoes. "Those missiles are so accurate we can pinpoint a target from 1,200 miles. I could launch one that could come in through one door of this hotel and go out another from that distance," Kearney said.

He covered varied aspects of submarine life from crew berths being shared in shifts, to all bakery products being made fresh everyday, to the very limited storage capacity for crew uniforms and personal items. "We make our own oxygen and water and there is one washer and one dryer on board for a crew of 150," he said.

"The submarine force is out there protecting America. It is playing a pivotal role in the war on terrorism. When we are down no one knows where we are at any given time and we can run very silent," Kearney said.

Among the guests were more than a dozen Armed Forces members from Walter Reed Army Medical center who have returned from service in Iraq. Following the breakfast, everyone was invited to the historic Friendship Firehouse, 107 S. Alfred St., to await the commencement of the George Washington Birthday Parade.