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Lakeside High's first valedictorian now commanding submarine

Posted: May 16, 2012 - 12:14am
Abraham Palmer (left) joined his twin brother, Adam, for a September ceremony when Adam assumed command of a U.S. Navy submarine. Adam was valedictorian of Lakeside's first graduating class in 1989, and Abe was salutatorian.  Special Photo
Special Photo
Abraham Palmer (left) joined his twin brother, Adam, for a September ceremony when Adam assumed command of a U.S. Navy submarine. Adam was valedictorian of Lakeside's first graduating class in 1989, and Abe was salutatorian.

Valedictorians from Columbia County’s high schools are perfecting their speeches in preparation for Saturday’s graduation ceremonies.

This time 23 years ago, Navy Commander Adam Palmer was in the same situation, writing the speech he’d give as Lakeside High School’s first valedictorian in 1989.

From that moment, Palmer never fathomed the depths to which his career would sink.

In a ceremony this past fall, Palmer took the helm of the U.S.S. West Virginia – a nuclear-powered, ballistic missile submarine, also known as SSBN 736.

“It was something that I recognize that my career path had kind of uniquely prepared me ...for taking an SSBN, taking one out of the shipyard where there’s a year of certifications that we’re going to have to do,” said Palmer, who has experience inspecting submarine engineering systems.

“It can be difficult. ... It is something I felt like I was very much ready to do, something that not everybody would jump on.”

He’ll take the West Virginia to sea in the summer of 2013. The sub is in a shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., to refuel the nuclear reactor, Palmer said.

Then, the 560-foot-long West Virginia must undergo sea trials and certifications before it’s cleared to return to the active Navy fleet.

Palmer said he was eager to take the sub, his first as commander, to sea.

One of the perks of being stuck in the shipyard is that Palmer gets to spend every night with his wife, Jessica, and 9-year-old daughter, Addison, at their home in nearby Norfolk, Va.

“So, apart from maybe the initial idea that it’d be great to get underway and not have to worry about this stuff, I kind of quickly got over that,” Palmer said. “Really, having the opportunity to influence people’s lives, hopefully teach them things that they haven’t experienced, help guide them, coach them, mentor them; that is really neat. And it doesn’t take getting a ship underway to do that.”

In the meantime, Palmer’s staying busy overseeing sub maintenance and training the more than 200-member crew.

Even though Palmer hasn’t yet led the crew on an active mission, or even taken the sub to sea, he is loving every minute aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia.

“I can tell you, even the bad days are better than any other day I’ve had in the submarine force,” Palmer said. “It is just amazing. It is like being out on the playground without any of the other teachers there.”

Joining the Navy’s submarine force wasn’t Palmer’s aim when he attended Duke University in 1989 on a Navy JROTC scholarship. He made the decision while talking to enlisted seamen on a brief mid-shipmen tour.

“They’re all obviously very sharp. They know their stuff,” Palmer said. “But they were like, ‘Whatever you do, don’t come in the submarine force. It’s awful. We’re working hard. Just don’t do this.’

“I think the No. 1 reason why I came into the submarine force was because a bunch of smart, sarcastic guys told me it was absolutely the thing I shouldn’t do.”

After graduating from Duke in 1993, Palmer received a commission through the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps. After training, he joined the crew of the U.S.S. Maine for three deterrent patrols, where the sub and Palmer earned accolades.

“We were so proud of him,” Palmer’s mother, Judy, said of his newest assignment. “I still can’t believe it. ... I can’t even imagine that amount of responsibility.”

He became a qualified submarine tactics instructor and attack center operator before leaving the Navy for the private sector.

When he rejoined the Navy in 2002 “it instantly felt like home again,” Palmer said.

Palmer continued training and service on the U.S.S. Springfield and the U.S.S. Albuquerque, which was deployed to the Arabian Gulf with the Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group and earned more awards.

“Our mission is to prevent war,” Palmer said. “That’s what we are hopefully doing.”

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