By Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, Commander, Submarine Group 2Public Affairs
GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- More than 100 people attended the first Southeastern Connecticut Submarine Force Birthday Ball Sing-off at Fitch High School March 24 in Groton.
Of the 14 contestants who belted out their favorite lyrics in the auditorium of Fitch High School, a 20-year old junior attending the University of Connecticut from Mystic, Conn., won the sing-off.
"It's a good opportunity to sing the national anthem at this year's Submarine Force Birthday Ball," said Christine Fisher, who also added that her boyfriend, who is assigned to a Groton-based submarine, encouraged her to audition.
"I am honored to have the opportunity to perform for the ball. All of the finalists were great singers and it was a great experience," said Fisher, who was also a 2009 graduate from Fitch High School.
Brittney Longyear, one of the three finalists selected by the judges to perform the national anthem said she decided to enter the competition for a good cause.
"I always look at these types of events going toward a good cause and I love to get involved with things that are bigger than me," said Longyear, who has been singing since the age of three, and has performed at various fundraisers to raise awareness for cancer research and competed in national singing contests.
Active duty military personnel also participated in the sing-off. Yeoman 2nd Class Alex Kuen, assigned to Submarine Surveillance and Equipment Program Atlantic, who studied opera in college, entertained the audience with his singing and his two-year old son's appearance on stage during his audition.
"Anytime I can sing in front of people I will grab at the opportunity," said Kuen, who was the third finalist chosen to perform the national anthem in front of the panel of judges prior to Fisher's selection. Kuen has some impressive singing credentials; he used to sing professionally in a barbershop quartet out of Providence, R.I.
Kuen's wife Meaghan was overjoyed with her husband's performance, "so very proud."
Besides Kuen, other contestants brought with them to the stage years of experience working in the music industry. April Marie, a native of Waterford, who now resides in New York and has trained musicians for the past 20 years, sang "At Last" by musician Etta James for the judges and audience.
"The talent here tonight, must be so hard for the judges," said Marie, who had nearly 20 family and friends from New York and Connecticut who supported her through the audition.
Two other services were represented in the sing-off, a former Army specialist and an Air National Guard soldier also competed.
Marion Green, originally from New Jersey, is a contractor employed on Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland. Green has served as an Army ammunition specialist and performed before the troops in Kabul, Afghanistan (Camp Phoenix) spanning 2008 - 2010. Green also performed with the Army's 101st Airborne Division's Manifest Destiny in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2010.
"I wanted to be a part of this because you need to sing for the troops, it helps to build their morale," said Green.
SrA Lisa Weiss, currently serving with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard also competed in the sing off, and performed with the Air Force's Tops in Blue in 2010.
"I love singing the national anthem, and actually got the opportunity to perform with the Air Force when they toured around the world," said Weiss.
Capt. Marc Denno, commanding officer, Naval Submarine Base New London was one of five judges who volunteered their time to judge the contestants participating in the sing off.
"I am once again overwhelmed by the support of the Connecticut community for our Navy," said Denno. "Many non-military affiliated contestants showed up tonight so show their support. We also received a lot of help from our neighbors to put on this event, as well as the use of the local high school."
Lt. Scott Mythen, director, Navy Band Northeast discussed also judging the talented group of singers in this year's competition.
"A talented group of vocalists took the stage Saturday," said Mythen. "The decisions were not easy, given the impressive level of talent."
Mythen was one of five judges who voluntary judged the singers to find the best talent to perform the national anthem at the 112th Submarine Force Birthday Ball on April 14 at MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort.
"The judges had a tough time picking the top three," said Mythen. "I believe what ultimately shone through was not the ability to entertain the crowd, but rather whose voice had the quality, throughout all vocal registers, needed to perform the national anthem."
Mythen added the national anthem is not always the easiest to perform.
"Rendering vocal honors to our flag are not easy, especially given the skill required to sing the expansive melody found in the Star Spangled Banner. It requires control and power, range and a pure tone. I'm pleased with the selection that was made," said Mythen.
Rear Adm. Rick Breckenridge, commander, Submarine Group 2 spoke prior to the start of the sing off about the significance of our nation's anthem.
"Before the competition begins it's fitting to understand our anthem's creation to set the stage for the contestants who will be performing later this evening," said Breckenridge.
The Southeastern Connecticut Submarine Force Birthday Ball Planning Committee is an all volunteer, non-federal entity not endorsed by the Department of Defense.