11 September 2015
ABOARD ATTACK SUB NEWPORT NEWS AT NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. — Bubbleheads have a new boss, and his orders are clear: "We must continue to own the undersea domain."
Vice Adm. Joseph Tofalo on Sept. 11 put on many new hats — Submarine Forces, Submarine Force Atlantic and Allied Submarine Command — when he assumed command from Vice Adm. Michael Connor, who's retiring after 36 years.
Connor, who earned a reputation as a tough-as-nails submarine boss, led the submarine force in preparing to counter the rising capabilities of Russian, North Korean and Chinese subs. He led the force when the first women earned their coveted "Dolphin" insignia, and has overseen the opening of more jobs on more subs to female crews; the sub force is now preparing to accept enlisted women for the first time. Connor also led the response to reports that some women were secretly recorded undressing on the submarine Wyoming by their shipmate. Connor called those allegations "a breach of trust."
Among the dozens of VIPs and shipmates in attendance Friday was the new chief of naval operations, as well as some of Connor's former junior officers. Four officers from Connor's command of the attack sub Seawolf now command their own subs: the Ohio, Houston, Hartford and Florida.
"There is no clearer statement that the submarine force meets the mission than 32 submarines deployed over the past three years, fully manned and exquisitely trained," said Adm. Phil Davidson, head of Fleet Forces Command, who presented him with the Distinguished Service Medal.
Fellow submariners in attendance included Adm. John Richardson, who will become the CNO on Sept. 18, and Adm. James Caldwell, who replaced Richardson as director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.
In his three years as the submarine boss, Connor helped prepare for the next generation of ballistic missile subs, modernized the force with the common radio room and universal tactical fire control system, and increased the operational availability of ballistic missile subs.
Connor also dealt with his share of scandal, to include the secret video recording of female officers in the dressing area of the submarine Wyoming. The three-star repeatedly promised "significant penalties." The first prosecuted sailor received two years in jail and a dishonorable discharge.
Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S Strategic Command, lauded Connor's achievements.
"I am confident that Adm. Hyman G. Rickover would be proud he selected you for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program," he said.
Haney said Tofalo was the right leader to manage the increasing demand on maintenance, drive the Ohio-class replacement, and bring strategic insight desperately needed.
Tofalo honored the "mentors and tormentors" who shaped him into the flag officer he has become, and lauded Connor's "outstanding legacy."
"We, as a force, are on the right track," he said. "Our foundation is solid, our traditions reinforce the right attributes, and we have much to be proud of. This is less of a course change, but rather some small rudder to keep us in the middle of the channel as we face changes in set and drift."
Tofalo, most recently the director of Undersea Warfare, is a 1983 Naval Academy grad who has commanded the ballistic missile submarine Maine, Submarine Squadron 3 and Submarine Group 10. At SUBFOR, Connor will set force structure strategies, as well as budgetary, training and manpower requirements for the entire submarine community. He also is responsible for all Atlantic-based submarines.
Having addressed the "substantial demand" placed on the Silent Service in at least three world regions, Tofalo prioritized the need to employ ready forces; maintain an emphasis on safety; develop future capabilities amid operational improvement; keep the Ohio class on patrol until replacements arrive in 2031; and successfully integrate enlisted females, the first of whom entered the training pipeline last month.