Friday, September 25, 2009

South Berwick Welcomes USS HELENA Crew

By Barbara Leech
Staff Columnist
The crew of the USS Helena submarine received a warm welcome from South Berwick’s newly formed Welcoming Committee on Sept. 16, at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Town Manager John Schempf said his community’s Town Council recently approved formation of the committee to participate in the Shipyard’s program.
“This is basically a group of our citizens that are going to make this crew feel connected to our community and be invited to our events,” Schempf said. “The crew is away from home and we are going to make them feel welcome by including them in our happenings like the Halloween parade and the big Strawberry Festival. We are still coming together with ideas, but we will keep them connected to all our town activities.”
According to Gary Hildreth, Public relations officer for the shipyard, the host community program was created to provide submarine crews the opportunity to be “adopted” by a Seacoast community while their vessel undergoes maintenance or upgrades at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
“The community welcomes the officers, crew and families of the ship and includes them as part of their community. It is a partnership,” Hildreth stated. “The submarine crew enjoys the community’s hospitality and in return, the community receives a helping hand and a unique feeling of involvement in the lives of Naval personnel.”
Hildreth said, for example, crewmembers may be invited to join in a civic project, tutor in the schools, or participate in holiday events. It provides, according to Hildreth, an opportunity for the community to get to know the Navy and their sailors and introduces the crews and their families to the unique atmosphere of the Seacoast communities. “There is a special relationship that is built as a result of the Host Community Program,” he said.
Schempf said that South Berwick residents are excited about the opportunity to be a host community and several more people are expected to join the committee to participate in the committee’s activities planning.
“We have a lot of ideas for them including going to Powderhouse Hill for skiing,” he said. “I am sure our list will grow as we get more organized and our group grows.”
The USS Helena will be at the Shipyard for extended maintenance including several system upgrades.
The Helena’s crew consists of 18 officers and 126 enlisted personnel based out of San Diego, according to the shipyard public affairs office. The Helena is considered a fast attack “front line” submarine and has completed numerous deployments in the Western Pacific and weapons and tactical training in the Arctic.
Commanding officer of the Helena is Vermont resident Cmdr. Paul L. Dinius. He has served on several submarines and as Executive Officer on the USS Jefferson City from 2004 to 2006. Prior to his assignment as commander of the Helena, he served as a special assistant to the commander, U.S. Strategic Command, and as the deputy director of the Commander’s Action Group.
Photo caption: On Wednesday, Sept. 16, USS HELENA (SSN 725) ship’s plaque was ceremoniously hung in Tirante Tavern at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard welcoming the ship, her crew and family members to the Seacoast area. South Berwick is the ship’s host community. Shown (l to r) are Scott Kimmel, Project Superintendent; Commander Paul Dinius, Commanding Officer USS HELENA; Captain Robert Mazzone, Shipyard Commander; and John Schempf, South Berwick Town Manager. (U.S. Navy photo by Jim Cleveland)