GROTON -- With a clean desk, 415 Twitter followers and 31,731 likes on the Naval Submarine Base Facebook page, Capt. Carl Lahti turned over command of the sub base to Capt. Paul Whitescarver on Monday.
"Often at events like these, the incoming officer notes what a tough act it is to follow the guy that he's relieving, and I guarantee you it is no act," Whitescarver said during Monday's change-of-command ceremony. "Carl, you've done a superb job here."
A native of Roanoke, Va., Whitescarver is the 51st commanding officer of the base. He most recently served on the staff of Submarine Forces Atlantic in Norfolk, Va. He has served on several different submarines, including the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (SSN 708), USS Norfolk (SSN 714) and the USS Alabama (SSBN 731) and commanded the USS Scranton (SSN 752) from 2009 to 2012.
As a submariner, Whitescarver is assuming command of the base as the state and the Navy are in the midst of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the base and Naval Submarine School.
"I can think of no finer way to serve our Navy than to contribute to that esteemed history," he said.
Whitescarver and his wife, Katie, have two sons, Kyle and Garrett.
As CO, Lahti oversaw and spearheaded various energy initiatives, including development of a "smart energy" electricity microgrid and millions of dollars in new or renovated buildings, despite tight budgets and threats of another Base Realignment and Closure round. He also maintained a full schedule of Navy and community events, proven by the number of community members in attendance Monday, and an active Twitter acount.
"The warm collegiality that met us as we visited with so many state, local and community leaders is a result of his genuine and great passion for the Navy, this base and our community," Whitescarver said of Lahti.
Much of Lahti's speech was spent highlighting and thanking those he worked with on and off the base. Lahti thanked his family -- all six of of his kids except for his oldest, who was taking college finals, were present -- and his wife of 25 years, Lisa, for their support.
"I was supposed to do 18 minutes of accolades on my wife and two minutes on Subase," he said, praising his wife for raising six children "essentially by herself."
Lahti's two-and-a-half year tour as CO was the longest time he and Lisa have spent living together, he said.
Three achievements for Lahti were sustaining the long-term infrastructure at the base, continuing and improving relationships that "keep our mission moving forward" and working hard to keep the base population and the community informed about what's going on, he said.
Lahti faced his greatest challenge less than six months after he took over command, when the federal government shut down in 2013, forcing furloughs of about 750 of the 1,300 Defense Department civilians who were working at the base at the time.
Standing on the stage of the Dealy Center Theater, where he held a town hall meeting in 2013 after the shutdown, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, explained how Lahti stood on that same stage during the entire meeting, showing "incredible leadership in terms of trying to keep the conversation focused on real information to help people in that situation."
"It's great to be there when the ribbons are being cut, when the grants are being announced, (but) the true test of leadership is when things aren't, frankly, going so well," said Courtney, who was the guest speaker at the change-of-command.
The congressman and Lahti worked together on more minor issues as well. They both joked about two separate complaints received by Courtney's office, one of which was that the newly opened commissary on base didn't carry Rice Krispies and the other about the way the Navy was handling feral cats on base.
In the first case, the Rice Krispies had been moved to a different shelving spot, so Lahti took a picture to send to Courtney's staff, proving the cereal was there. A feral cat summit was held to resolve the second complaint, but Courtney said he saw a cat when driving onto the base Monday, so "we still have work to do there," he joked.
U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., both gave brief remarks, highlighting the importance of the base to the country's national security.