June 1, 2020 – May 31 marks the 108th anniversary of the birth of U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson. In a fitting tribute to his legacy, his namesake ship USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730), the Defender of Freedom, is deployed on its 100th strategic deterrent patrol.
Jackson is one of the first Ohio-class submarines to reach that historic milestone.
It is fitting that the senator’s namesake is making naval history. He played a key role in the development of the US Navy’s nuclear submarine force. As a newly elected senator in 1952, he was a crucial advocate for the retention of Capt. Hyman G. Rickover, who was on his way to a forced retirement, having recently been passed over for promotion to rear admiral. In part because of Jackson’s advocacy, the Navy reversed course, promoting Rickover who subsequently led the successful development and construction of the first nuclear powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571), and the growth of the nuclear Navy over the following 30 years.
The support of Adm. Rickover and his role in the birth of the nuclear Navy, would have been enough to make Jackson a hero for the submarine force, but his advocacy did not stop there. In his role on the Senate Armed Services committee, Jackson went on to play a leading role in the development of the Ohio-class submarine and Trident ballistic-missile programs, significantly upgrading the range and stealth of the Navy’s survivable strategic deterrent capability.
The importance of Jackson to our submarine force is why Henry M. Jackson is the only Ohio-class submarine not named after a state. When the senator passed away in September 1983, USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) was scheduled to be launched the next month. Recognizing Sen. Jackson’s importance to the force, President Ronald Reagan, in true bipartisan spirit, made the decision to change the name of USS Rhode Island to USS Henry M. Jackson, just in time for the launching ceremony. It was a remarkable chain of events, and to this day a framed set of tickets to the launching ceremony are displayed in the wardroom alongside the updated tickets with the ship’s new name.
Recently, the crew of Henry M. Jackson has again found themselves a part of remarkable events. During the crew’s preparation for the historic 100th patrol, as a nation we found ourselves facing a new challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic. However, just like other challenges we have faced, the submarine force has responded. The crew was isolated on the ship, in port, for two weeks prior to departing and subject to several rounds of testing to minimize any possibility of an outbreak while underway. This was a challenging period for the crew. They took numerous precautions, changed working schedules to maximize social distancing, and cleaned the ship top to bottom numerous times. In the end, and in the spirit of our namesake, they succeeded. They got the ship underway from its maintenance period, on time, to support our nation’s strategic deterrence mission.
As always this mission will continue, just like the legacy of Sen. Jackson. Jackson spent his life working and supporting the defense of our country. It gives me immense pleasure and honor to be a part of the Henry M. Jackson team who, as I type this, is somewhere in the Pacific Ocean on their 100th strategic deterrent patrol, still defending the country Jackson worked so hard to serve.