By Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Monique Meeks, Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic Public Affairs
NORFOLK (NNS) -- Vice Adm. Joseph E. Tofalo relieved Vice Adm. Michael J. Connor as Commander, Submarine Forces in a change of command ceremony aboard the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Newport News (SSN 750) in Norfolk, Virginia, Sept. 11.
"I'm very proud of where the submarine force is today and where it's headed for the future, but the success that we enjoy today is certainly not because of me. I oversaw some incremental improvements to a foundation that was built by my predecessors, many of whom are here today," said Connor. "Because of all of you, I'm turning over a force that is safer, more reliable and more forward-leaning than the one I inherited - and the force I inherited was pretty darn good."
Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander, U.S. Strategic Command, and Adm. Phil Davidson, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, were guest speakers during the ceremony.
"Mike brilliantly empowered this exquisitely capable submarine force in a truly sublime manner - right at the core - making them ready to conduct prompt, sustained combat operations at sea, both today and tomorrow," said Davidson. "Mike also oversaw the successful integration of enlisted women into submarines, ensuring that we recruit the best, brightest and most determined warriors from the entirety of America."
Since taking command of the submarine force in September 2012, Vice Adm. Connor played a pivotal role in the future of the force.
"Mike has seen a tectonic shift in the landscape of the submarine force in the last 36 years," said Haney. "While the force has undergone change, Mike has sustained excellence in operations while increasing the safety in operations.
"His dedication in leading the men and women of the submarine force has tremendously improved the force's capability. As a staunch advocate of strategic deterrence, he has increased the life of our aging ballistic-missile submarine force and has refined the effort of our Sailors in continuing to maintain their operations. Mike's efforts and those of Vice Adm. Tofalo, have gotten our Ohio Class Replacement Program on track and have kept it on track," continued Haney.
"His legacy in this effort will continue. As a brilliant strategist, he has made a difference in the force's operations, as well as with our most vital resource - our Sailors. His Undersea Dominance Campaign Plan and the Undersea Rapid Capability Initiative has positioned the U.S. Navy to sustain and advance its undersea dominance through the next generation, and keep the best submarine force in the world reigning supreme."
A native of Weymouth, Massachusetts, Vice Adm. Connor graduated from Bowdoin College in 1980. He is a Mahan Scholar and distinguished graduate of the Naval War College with a Master of Arts in National Security Affairs and Strategic Studies. Following completion of his initial nuclear power and submarine training, he served aboard USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN 631), USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720), USS Providence (SSN 719), and USS Augusta (SSN 710).
Connor commanded USS Seawolf (SSN 21) from 1997 to 2000. He served as Commander, Submarine Squadron 8 from March 2003 through July 2004. From June 2008 until April 2010, he served as commander, Submarine Group 7, Task Force 54/74 Yokosuka, Japan.
Connor's shore assignments include service at the Navy Operational Intelligence Center; Flag Secretary for the Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; and Prospective Commanding Officer Instructor for U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He has served on the Joint Staff, on the staff of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy; and as director, Submarine Warfare Division (N87); director, Naval Warfare Integration Group (N00X); and assistant deputy chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems (N9B) on the OPNAV staff.
"It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve with you and alongside you," said Connor. "I am so happy to finish my tour in the Navy in this job, on this staff, with so many family and friends present. I know Joe Tofalo well, I think I had a fair amount of influence in the fact that he is my relief, and he is the perfect person to follow me and take the force to the next level of performance."
Vice Adm. Joe Tofalo will continue not only the legacy of Vice Adm. Connor, but also that of his parents. His father was a 35-year career naval officer and his mother a Navy WAVE, one of the first enlisted women in the Navy.
In his introductory remarks, Tofalo shared his happiness for taking on his new role through a lighthearted story.
"I was sitting having a cup of coffee with Suzanne this morning and I said to her, 'Honey, did you ever think in your wildest dreams, that you and I would return as commander, Submarine Forces?' And of course, Suzanne, always one to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, not skipping a beat, says to me, 'Joe, what makes you think for a minute that you are in any of my wildest dreams?' Like I said, Suzanne is always one to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground and we are thrilled that those feet are planted right here in Norfolk, Virginia."
Tofalo grew up in upstate New York and graduated with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in Computer Science. He also holds a master's in Engineering Management from Catholic University of America.
A career submarine officer, Tofalo's at-sea assignments include USS Flasher (SSN 613), USS Michigan (SSGN 727), and USS Montpelier (SSN 765). His at-sea command assignments were as commanding officer of USS Maine (SSBN 741) and commander, Submarine Squadron 3.
Tofalo's staff assignments include three assignments on Commander, Submarine Forces staff; two assignments on Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces staff; four assignments on the Chief of Naval Operations staff; U.S. Joint Forces Command; and the Joint Staff.
Selected for rear admiral in December 2009, his first flag assignment was as deputy chief of staff for Global Force Management and Joint Operations (N3B), U.S. Fleet Forces Command. In August 2011, he relieved as commander, Submarine Group 10 and in December 2013 as director, Undersea Warfare on the Chief of Naval Operations staff in the Pentagon.
Vice Adm. Tofalo expressed his gratitude to Vice. Adm. Connor and his wife, Kate, for leaving him with the greatest submarine force on the planet. He also thanked his shipmates, friends, and family.
"Suzanne, we've come a long way since USS Flasher and that little apartment at the end of the fishing pier," said Tofalo in closing. "I can tell you that my wildest dreams would not have been possible without you."