Paul Villa, owner and president of Great West Produce Inc. in City of
Commerce, CA, along with a group of eight other prominent members of the
Los Angeles-area business community, had an opportunity to spend a day
aboard a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine, the USS Albuquerque, at sea
off the coast of San Diego.
It is the second time in two years that Mr. Villa has been aboard a U.S. Navy
vessel at sea as part of the Navy's Distinguished Visitor Program. On the
previous occasion, in 2008, the vessel was an aircraft carrier with a 5,000-
member crew, the vastness of which contrasted dramatically with the tight
quarters of the submarine, home to about 110 crew members and officers.
"I noticed that the sub wasn’t at the dock when we got there," Mr. Villa told
The Produce News. “They were out at sea, so they came in to get us.”
When the vessel came up to the dock, a ramp was put in place and “we
walked across the ramp and down the hatch into the sub.” As soon as the
visitors were aboard, the hatch was closed and the sub left the dock.
During the Feb. 19 cruise, the visitors were briefed by the captain and
commander and escorted on a tour of the sub, with the exception of the
nuclear reactor area.
“One thing they don’t let you do is see the nuclear portion,” Mr. Villa said. But
they did see the crew quarters, the sonar room, and even the torpedo room
where the crew “showed us how they load the torpedoes and Tomahawk
missiles” and demonstrated how torpedoes are launched by firing a water-
They had lunch with the officers and crew, and the food was “spectacular,” he
“A real thrill was to climb up on top of the conning tower” with the vessel
underway, Mr. Villa said. “It is just beautiful to look down and watch the prow
going through the water in front of you” and to see the wake spreading out
behind the stern. “You get a sense of power that is hard to describe.”
In the control room, “we all had turns at the periscope,” and “we did an actual
dive, which was really interesting,” Mr. Villa said. The crew took the
submarine down to 200 feet, then “did a 30-degree dive to 600 feet, then
back up again and back down again and back up again.”
The sub itself and the technology with which it is equipped were “really
wonderful to see,” Mr. Villa said. But what impressed him most was the crew.
“I didn’t expect the crew to be as warm and friendly as they were. Everybody
you passed had a smile on their face. You felt more like you were visiting
It was clear that the crew members “love the service” and “love the boat,” he
said. “You can tell they are not pretending.” All of them were “very proud to
be assigned to the sub.” They are all “remarkable young men,” very
enthusiastic and exceptionally well educated and trained. “A good percentage
of them are engineers.”
Like his earlier tour aboard the aircraft carrier, this, too, was “an experience
of a lifetime,” Mr. Villa said.