Published April 15. 2013 4:00AM Updated April 15. 2013 11:53PM
Groton — With an exchange of handshakes and salutes, responsibility for all of the attack submarines on the East Coast passed from Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge to Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry on Monday.
The Historic Ship Nautilus served as the backdrop for the change-of-command ceremony for Submarine Group Two, during which Breckenridge was praised for a "superb" tour and Perry was welcomed back to Groton.
Vice Adm. Michael J. Connor, the commander of the submarine force, described his strategy and said Breckenridge will be his "primary partner" in executing it. Breckenridge is going to the Pentagon to lead the Undersea Warfare Division.
As the division's director, Breckenridge will help shape the future of the submarine force by figuring out where to invest and what capabilities to develop.
The submarine force has to continue buying two Virginia-class submarines each year and keep the plans to build a new class of ballistic-missile submarines on track, Connor said.
As developments in North Korea over the past few weeks have shown, Connor said, "We can never afford to be without the capability to overwhelm those who seek to do us harm, especially if they seek to do us harm with nuclear weapons."
The submarine force also needs to quicken the pace at which new payloads for the boats are developed and sustain a culture where every sailor's contribution is valued, since people are the foundation for the strategy, Connor added. Connor congratulated Breckenridge "on a job superbly well done" as a "teacher, as a mentor and as a living example of high standards" for the group, and said if he performs nearly as well at the Pentagon "we'll be in good shape."
Breckenridge led more than 6,000 military and civilian personnel and oversaw 28 submarines. During his 20-month tenure, the submarine crews deployed to hot spots around the world, where they thwarted pirates, terrorists, drug smugglers and dictators, helped rescue hostages and figured out what's happening in far-off places, Connor said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, thanked Breckenridge for his work, not just at the group but throughout the community.
At the early afternoon ceremony, which concluded before the bombings Monday at the Boston Marathon, Breckenridge said he chose that day for the ceremony because this was Patriots Day, which commemorates the first battles of the American Revolutionary War in Lexington and Concord.
Breckenridge, who is from Massachusetts, said today's submariners have the same intrepid courage and fighting spirit as the colonists. He said he has watched "a new generation of warriors rise up."
"There is a fire in their eyes, a recognition that what they're doing is vitally important," he said.
At the end of the day, Breckenridge said, it's not about what technology the submarine force has — "it still comes back to these young Americans, who sign up for a very hard life."
This assignment was Breckenridge's fourth in Groton. He thanked many of his supporters in the audience and said he was grateful for the opportunity "to make a difference here at my beloved Groton waterfront."
"It is with resistance that I leave," he said, before reading his orders for his next assignment.
He and Perry shook hands and saluted each other, and shook Connor's hand and saluted him. Connor awarded Breckenridge the Legion of Merit, gold star in lieu of fourth award, for exceptionally meritorious conduct.
Perry stepped to the podium smiling broadly.
"I can't help smiling. It's great to be back in Groton. It's great to be back in the Submarine Capital of the World and it's especially great to be back in the spring," said Perry, a career submarine officer who commanded Submarine Development Squadron 12 in Groton.
The audience laughed when Perry joked that he was also smiling because there's one admiral who is taking command on the waterfront and another who is going to Washington, D.C.
Most recently Perry served as the vice commander of the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command in San Diego, Calif. He was responsible for the operational control of air, surface and underwater mine countermeasures forces.
Perry said he looked forward to working with everyone at the group to make sure the submariners and submarines are "the most ready, relevant and capable forces in the world." Connor said Perry has a great reputation and the men and women of Group Two are fortunate to now serve alongside him.