USS Jefferson City has native sons in charge

Friday, November 23, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- They're still 1,700 miles apart, but the USS Jefferson City and the state capital for which it is named are now a little closer in spirit.

At a ceremony in San Diego this week, Cmdr. Dean A. Richter -- a former Jefferson City resident -- took over as commander of the Jefferson City, a nuclear-powered submarine.

Richter's executive officer will be Lt. Cmdr. Steve M. Benke, a Jefferson City native who remembers musing at the time of the sub's commissioning in 1992 whether he would have an opportunity to serve on it.

"It was totally by accident" that the Navy moved two men with Jefferson City roots to the namesake sub, said Benke.

Richter, whose mother lives in Cole County, lived in Jefferson City and Owensville before entering the Navy in 1983. A graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a degree in mechanical engineering, Richter now lives in San Diego with his wife and their five children.

Several Jefferson City residents had planned to attend the change-of-command ceremony in San Diego but were unable to make the trip after the event was changed to Tuesday from its original date, Nov. 30.

It wouldn't have been the first visit between residents of the city and the sailors who live on the Jefferson City.

Melody Green, a member of the Jefferson City Submarine Commission, has visited the submarine and had crew members at her home numerous times.

Green called the change-of-command ceremony an important moment for Jefferson City, especially given the Jefferson City connections of Richter and Benke. "We should be very excited," she said.

Benke said the crew appreciates the city's support.

"It's been amazing," he said. "The guys on board all feel the fact that the city is thinking about us and rooting for us."

He described the atmosphere on board the 6,900-ton submarine as somewhat uncertain in light of the U.S. military action in Afghanistan but nevertheless "pumped up."

"We're working to get ready, we're on schedule to be deployed and we're excited to be a part of what's going on," Benke said.

With a crew of about 13 officers and 125 enlisted personnel, the sub's mission as part of the Pacific Fleet includes seeking and destroying enemy ships, gathering intelligence, combat search and rescue, special warfare and carrier battle group support.

The 360-foot submarine is capable of launching tactical cruise missiles against distant land targets.

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