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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- filled torpedo.

They had lunch with the officers and crew, and the food was “spectacular,” he said.

“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 somebody’s home.”

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.