NASHVILLE, TN, Sept. 16, 2008 — Sailors from USS Tennessee (SSBN 734) (Gold) made an annual namesake visit to Tennessee Aug. 14-19.
Fifteen of Tennessee's Sailors, including Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Rhett Jaehn, the weapon's officer, supply officer and chief of the boat, spent five days visiting Nashville, Chattanooga and Cleveland. This is the Gold crew's third visit to Tennessee.
"It is an honor for us to represent the great state of Tennessee. The relationship between the state and USS Tennessee is a very special one. In twenty years of service, I have never experienced a closer partnership. Our command's motto is "America at Its Best"; this applies not only to the crew but also the state of Tennessee," Jaehn said.
The trip began in Nashville where the crew was on the field for the Titans vs. Raiders football game. The Titans allowed Chief of the Boat, Master Chief Russ Mason, and Electronics Technician 2nd Class Ryan Wilson to hold their re-enlistment ceremony on the 50-yard line before the game. The ship's coin was used for the official coin toss, and the team presented Jaehn with the game ball.
The Titans pulled out a stunning victory in the last two seconds of the game. Mason had an additional reason to celebrate the home team's victory - it was his birthday.
"This will probably be my last enlistment in the Navy, and to be able to share that with Wilson, who was re-enlisting for the first time is really special," Mason said. "Football is my favorite sport, so to be on the field at a Titans game, in our namesake state, makes this the best birthday, hands down."
"I don't know how to describe the feelings," Wilson said. "The significance of master chief's last re-enlistment and my first is really cool. I am proud to be a part of Tennessee, the ship and the state. The people here are just awesome."
The day after the game, the crew drove to Chattanooga National Cemetery for a special dedication of the USS Haddo Base Memorial Stone. This monument honors the service of all U.S. submariners and was sponsored by members of the Haddo from Cleveland, Tenn. A lunch was held after the ceremony at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4848. After lunch, the crew continued on to Cleveland.
In February 2006, the city of Cleveland was brought to the attention of Tennessee when Tunes 4 the Troops made a special delivery of CDs and DVDs to the Sailors.
Tunes 4 the Troops is a program created and operated by Cleveland native Kaylee Radzyminski. As a 14-year-old U.S. Naval Sea Cadet, Radzyminski met with troops returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. While speaking with them, she learned that many were homesick for movies, music and television programs from home.
A small collection drive started the ball rolling, and Tunes 4 the Troops is now a nationally recognized program that has collected and shipped more than 350,000 items. Radzyminski expects to reach her goal of shipping 500,000 CDs and DVDs to troops all over the world by the end of 2008.
After meeting Radzyminski, the Gold crew decided to donate their time to help with Tunes 4 the Troops. The Gold crew made their first visit to Cleveland and the Radzyminski home in the summer of 2006. The city honored the Sailors during that visit by presenting Tennessee with an official proclamation declaring Cleveland's adoption of the submarine.
In October of 2006, Jaehn took command of Tennessee and soon made plans for another namesake visit. One year later, in October 2007, Jaehn and 12 members of the Gold crew, made a second trip to Cleveland.
"The state of Tennessee has always provided the command great support. Our visit is a great opportunity for us to give something back to the community. The ship is a strategic asset vital to the nation's defense, but the heart and soul of USS Tennessee is the crew," Jaehn said.
"I am very proud of my men and what they have accomplished. This is a great opportunity for the local community to meet the Sailors that represent them around the world."
After arriving in Cleveland, the crew mustered at the Radzyminski home and helped to pack some of the thousands of CDs and DVDs that will be shipped to troops overseas.
"I had the best time with the guys from Tennessee! I really loved the help with packing and getting ready about 10,000 CDs and DVDs to send overseas to our troops," Radzyminski said.
"It is cool to know that other troops helped to pack and prepare them for their brothers in the war zones."
Radzyminski has been selected as a "CNN Hero" for her work with Tunes 4 the Troops. She is now eligible for the "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute", which will air Thanksgiving night. Ten CNN Heroes will be honored this year; each will be awarded $25,000 toward their cause. Additionally, one "hero" will receive $100,000 from an online vote later this year.
"To see one teenage girl in Cleveland start a national movement was inspirational and sets the example for all to follow," said Chief (Sel.) Missile Technician David Jones, Tennessee crew member.
Jones, a native of Wayne County, Tenn., knows about setting an example to follow. He was selected as the USS Tennessee (Gold) Sailor of the Year for 2008.
"Upon first arriving in Nashville, I was proud to see my fellow statesmen on their feet applauding my shipmates. It made me proud to be in the Navy and to be from Tennessee," Jones said.
The crew spent three days in Cleveland. They spoke with students at Cleveland High School and North Lee Elementary School. They were invited to dine at "The Spot," a historical restaurant landmark in Cleveland. A special lunch was held with the Navy League.
"The community is already asking when the next visit will be," said Stephanie Radzyminski, Kaylee's mother. "I am so thankful for all the support for Kaylee and her Tunes 4 the Troops. The media from USS Tennessee being in town and the help with all the CDs and DVDs - it was a huge help for Kaylee and Tunes 4 the Troops."
The crew also devoted one day to whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River in the Cherokee National Forest. After rafting, they were treated to a barbeque with Cleveland community members.
On their last day in Tennessee, the crew visited T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital in Chattanooga. Crew members presented Tennessee ball caps and posed for pictures with each child on the oncology floor.
"Our visit to the children's hospital was a somber experience in the beginning, but when their faces lit up, it was a joy. This whole trip has made me proud to be a Sailor, Tennessee native and Wayne County Wildcat," Jones said.
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