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." He also oversaw efforts to oversaw the , a native of Weymouth, Mass., and Mahan Scholar, commended his predecessors and staff for enabling a sub force that is "safer, more reliable, and more forward leaning." He thanked mentors by name for investing in him during service aboard Ulysses S. Grant, Pittsburgh, Providence, and Augusta.
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. Dozens of them were in attendance, and noted how Connor had "paid it forward." Four officers from Connor's command of the attack sub Seawolf now command their own subs: the Ohio, Houston, Hartford and Florida, respectively.
Connor's commanded tours also included submarine squadrons 7 and 8. He served on the Joint Staff, as the Submarine Warfare Division director, and Naval Warfare Integration Group director before taking the helm of the sub force.
"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 erHe went on to describe Connor as a consummate naval officer of sterling character whose legacy in lined by "significant and lasting contributions" before awarding Connor the Distinguished Service Medal.
Fellow submariners in attendance included Adm. John Richardson, who will become the CNO next chief of naval operations 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, held the post for three years. His tenure ran the gamut from preparation for an Ohio-class replacement to posturing against the increasing number and capabilities of Russian, North Korean, and Chinese submarines. He modernized the force with the common radio room and universal tactical fire control system, and increased the operational availability of ballistic missile subs, and disestablished Submarine Group 2 after 49 years of service to streamline command and control of East Coast attack submarines.
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 prosecuted received two years in jail and a dishonorable discharge.
Adm. Admiral Cecil Haney, commander of U.S Strategic Command, lauded Connor's achievements. maintained operational excellence, modernized the force, and prepared it for greater endeavors.
"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 later expressed excitement that Tofalo had been selected to build on Connor's foundation. He said submariners need a leader who can manage the increasing demand on maintenance, drive the Ohio-class replacement, and bring a strategic insight desperately needed in these unpredictable times. Tofalo is that man, Haney said.
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 when picked for this position. He has commanded the ballistic missile submarine Maine, Submarine Squadron 3 and Submarine Group 10. At SUBFOR, Tofalo Connor In this command, the 1983 Naval Academy graduate 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, and is the principal advisor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on submarine plans, operations, and doctrine.
Having addressed the "substantial demand" placed on the Silent Service in at least three world regions, Tofalo prioritized the need to effectively employ ready forces; maintain an emphasis on safety; develop future capabilities amid operational improvement; keeping the Ohio class on patrol until replacements arrive in 2031; and the successfully integrate enlisted females, the first of whom entered the training pipeline last month.