Crew members of USS Colorado briefly drop anchor in Yampa Valley
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Four crew members of the USS Colorado, a Naval fast attack submarine commissioned last year, spent Wednesday touring Steamboat Springs as part of a larger visit to Colorado.
Lt. Tim Bell said the crew aimed to learn more about the people of the ship’s namesake state and to educate Coloradans about the submarine.
Four members of the 134-man crew — Bell, Lt. Anthony Matus, Petty Officer Chris Gutierrez and Fireman Albert Rodriguez — traveled to Colorado this week at the recommendation of leadership.
The crew has spent the last three days traveling the state. They were recognized at Sunday’s Rockies game, visited several Front Range schools and spent some time at the Capitol with Gov. Jared Polis. They’ll be taking a Colorado state flag that flew over the capital back to the submarine. It’ll be flown on the ship when the submarine is at port.
On Wednesday, the crew crossed the Continental Divide to spend a day and a half in Routt County, where the crew met with Steamboat Springs City Council members, ate dinner with local veterans at Mountain Tap and stopped by for a sip of Warrior Whiskey at Steamboat Whiskey Company.
“Steamboat Springs is the most beautiful place we’ve seen,” said Gutierrez. “Every day that we’ve been here has been one beautiful sight after another, and we keep on hearing about ‘Oh Steamboat Springs is so beautiful!’ I personally was kind of doubting it because how can it be better than everywhere else? And it just blew me away.”
They also spent several hours fielding questions from North Routt Community Charter School students and some younger Sailors at Steamboat Springs Middle School.
In visiting with the school kids, the crew answered a number of questions about life underwater — from whether they watch Youtube videos on board (without external internet, no, but they play video games and watch downloaded movies together) to whether there are women serving on board (Not yet, but they’ll serve in the same roles men do on the ship within the next five years) to how they work the ship’s periscope-like camera (Matus controls it using an X-Box controller.).
Bell hopes that learning more about the USS Colorado might spark an interest in submarines.
On Thursday, the crew planned to eat breakfast with members of the Steamboat Springs Chamber board before driving back to Denver International Airport to fly back to the Naval Submarine Base New London in Gronton, Connecticut, where the submarine is based.
Steamboat was the crew’s only stop in the mountains, and the Routt County tour was organized by local Navy veteran Jim DeFrancia, who also serves as vice president of the USS Colorado Submarine Association.
“They’d been here before, a couple of years ago, but they were focused on the Front Range,” he said. “I said ‘Well, if they’re only going to the Front Range, they aren’t really seeing Colorado. We’ve got to get them to the mountains … They’re very happy to have made it to the mountains.”
The sailors heartily agreed.
Matus thanked residents of Routt County for their support.
“It really does mean a lot to us, and what we do we do for them,” Matus said. “It’s awesome to come see it in person.”
The USS Colorado
The submarine is the fourth ship to be named for the state and was commissioned in March 2018.
The last USS Colorado fought in World War II. Older ships bearing the name were a steam-powered frigate from 1858 to 1876, an armored cruiser from 1905 to 1927 and a battleship commissioned from 1923 to 1947.
The submarine is a Virginia-class vessel and is among the most advanced submarine in the Navy’s current fleet. It is designed for stealth in combat and is able to attack enemy seacraft using underwater torpedos and use Tomahawk missiles to launch attacks on land. It can ferry Navy SEALs to and from missions and conduct reconnaissance and surveillance to collect intelligence about enemies.
“We’re kind of like submerged spies,” Bell told Steamboat sixth graders. “We’re able to go into areas that most surface ships wouldn’t be able to because we’re submerged.”
The 344-foot-long submarine is powered by a nuclear reactor that’s expected to last 33 years. It operates at depths greater than 800 foot below the surface and at speeds of 25 knots or greater, the equivalent to about 29 miles per hour on the surface.
Crew members can spend six months aboard the vessel without touching dry land — the limiting factor is how much food the sub can carry.
As part of the USS Colorado Commissioning Committee, DeFrancia was among the group working to support the ship as it entered service — taking on such tasks as providing photos that decorate the sub’s mess hall and providing dinnerware for the officers.
That committee has evolved into the USS Colorado Submarine Association, a group that works to support the boat and her crew in other ways, including helping coordinate the crew members’ visit and the USS Colorado’s family resource group.
The four crew members will take the experience back to the ship Thursday to share the experience with the rest of the 134-person crew.
“We haven’t known how lucky we are until we come on these trips to realize how much Colorado has to offer … and we should be thankful that we’re not on the Montana or even the New Jersey,” Matus joked.
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