Published September 17. 2013 4:00AM Updated September 19. 2013 6:37PM
Groton - The USS New Mexico took on duties it never was supposed to because Capt. George Perez Jr. made sure the new submarine and its crew were ready early, Capt. Michael Bernacchi said Monday.
Bernacchi, the executive assistant to the chief of naval personnel and former chief of staff at Submarine Group Two, credited Perez, the submarine's commanding officer, with setting a schedule that allowed the Virginia-class submarine to leave the shipyard sooner than expected and pursue the Royal Navy's nuclear submarine HMS Astute in an exercise between the U.S. and U.K., among other operations.
Between Perez and the commander of another new submarine, the USS Missouri, a year of operational time was returned to the fleet - a "feat that has yet to be duplicated," Bernacchi said.
"I wrote some big checks on you George and you always saw that they were covered," he added.
On Monday, Perez turned over command of the New Mexico (SSN 779) to Cmdr. Todd Moore in a ceremony pierside. Perez has led the crew since October 2010. The submarine joined the fleet earlier that year and Perez was responsible for overseeing the maintenance, repairs, alterations and testing following commissioning.
Bernacchi recalled speaking to Perez shortly after Perez took command because a pre-engineering inspection did not go well. Perez rubbed his chin, smiled, and said, "Commodore, I got it," Bernacchi said.
The New Mexico "absolutely crushed" the inspection and the post-shakedown availability, one of the largest ever, was done on time and within the budget, said Bernacchi, who served as commodore of the submarine squadron that included the New Mexico.
"With George I saw the potential that not only could the ship come out and be ready to do operations but they could come out and be ready to fight," Bernacchi said. "That's something that nobody had really ever pushed before."
Perez led the submarine on its maiden six-month deployment, returning from the Mediterranean and Middle East to the base last month. He received the Meritorious Service Medal, gold star in lieu of third award, at the ceremony and praised the crew for their accomplishments, for which he said he couldn't be more proud.
"Men, it has been an honor and privilege to serve as your commanding officer. I will never forget the times we have spent on board," Perez said. "I challenge each of you to continue what you've started, a legacy of excellence that I am certain will span the next three decades."
He will next serve as the deputy commander of Submarine Squadron 16 in Kings Bay, Ga. Moore previously served as a branch chief at the U.S. Strategic Command.
Moore said that it was with a "great spirit of gratitude" that he took command, and now he and the crew will return to the task of preparing to be part of the Navy's global force and defend the nation.
"We will be experts in combat for the very reason of avoiding its practice," he said.