Friday, July 31, 2009

Former First Lady Laura Bush Honors Leadership, Crew of USS Texas

News in Balance
Former first lady Laura Bush smiles in front of USS Texas after a Change of Command ceremony in Groton, Conn., Friday, July 31, 2009. Mrs. Bush spoke briefly during the Change of Command for the USS Texas submarine, where Cmdr. James Gray turned over command to Cmdr. Robert Roncska. (AP news photo.)

News in Balance:

GROTON, Conn., July 31, 2009 -- The former first lady of the United States congratulated the outgoing commanding officer and offered best wishes to the incoming commander of USS Texas (SSN 775) during a change of command ceremony July 31 at Submarine Base New London.

"I'm happy to join you all for today's ceremony," said Laura Bush before a crowd of military and civilian dignitaries. "The USS Texas embodies the best ideals of her namesake's state: endurance, courage, loyalty and quiet strength. And nowhere are these virtues more visible than in her crew."

Bush, the boat's sponsor and native Texan, provided remarks during the change of command ceremony, during which Cmdr. James Gray turned over command of Texas to Cmdr. Robert Roncska. She had fond words for both naval officers.

"We thank Commander Gray for his outstanding service and leadership as the commander of the Texas. Congratulations to you, Jim, on a job well done and best wishes in your next assignment," said Bush.

As for Roncska, she said, "He'll be an excellent commander for the crew of the USS Texas. Congratulations Bob, and my very best wishes to you,"

Bush has been very active in the life of Texas, the fleet's second Virginia-class submarine. Not only did she take part in the change of command ceremony, which is among the oldest traditions in the Navy, she has also been there for other Texas milestones.

Previously, Bush participated in the laying of the ship's keel as first lady of Texas. In addition, as first lady of the United States, she spoke at the submarine's christening in 2004 and commissioning in 2006.

Her involvement did not stop there, according to Gray.

"She has been very interested in the crew's activities and corresponds with us periodically to remind us that we are in her thoughts. Shortly after the commissioning, she established a scholarship fund for children of current and former crew members. This scholarship provides partial tuition for up to three children at a time and there is currently one recipient," said Gray

Gray, a native of Dover, Del., will next serve as a member of the Chief of Naval Operations' Executive Panel. During his time in command, Texas transitioned into fleet operations and certified the ship's systems and her crew. The submarine also participated in numerous exercises, spent 181 days underway and logged nearly 42,000 miles.

Bush is also familiar with Roncska, a native of Dunkirk, New York. He served as naval aide to the president of the United States from 2006 to 2008.

"Commander Robert Roncska - or Navy Bob, as George calls him. We got to know Navy Bob while he served as the naval aide to President Bush. Last June, a little over a year ago now, Navy Bob traveled with me on a trip to Afghanistan. I appreciated the opportunity to get to know him better - and to see that he was a great officer and a natural leader. I know he's excited about the opportunity to command the Texas, and he brings a wealth of experience and energy to his new post," said Bush.

Roncska, who also served as executive officer aboard USS LaJolla (SSN 701), will lead Texas as the submarine transitions from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific later this fall. Bush had a final message for the crew.

"My best wishes for continued success. As your homeport changes from New London to Pearl Harbor - and as you undertake your first deployment - I know you'll tell all those you encounter, 'Don't Mess With Texas.'"

(Report by Lt. Patrick Evans, Public Affairs Officer, Commander Submarine Group 2.)

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