GROTON, Conn. — When Michael Majewski graduated from Start High School 23 years ago, he decided to join the Navy because he thought he needed more structure in his life.
“I didn’t think I had the discipline to go to college,” he recalls, “so I enlisted and ended up going to school for seven more years.”
Four of those years were officer training at the U.S. Naval Academy, during which now-Commander Majewski was introduced to the submarine service. On Friday, the native Toledoan became the captain of the USS Toledo fast-attack submarine during a change of command ceremony at the boat’s home port.
“I’m going back to the tip of the spear to conduct the missions that our nation requires of us,” Commander Majewski, 41, told an audience at the Naval Submarine Base New London that included his parents, 12 invited guests from the Toledo area, and the sub’s crew of 157 other sailors.
“He is a commander well prepared for the task at hand,” said Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, the Navy’s director of warfare integration who gave a keynote speech honoring Commander Majewski and Cmdr. Sam Geiger, the boat’s captain since July, 2011, who led a delegation of the Toledo’s crew to Toledo last summer.
Commander Majewski becomes the Toledo’s ninth commanding officer since its February, 1995, commissioning, and not only is he its first skipper from its namesake city, he possibly became the only “hometown” captain in the submarine service, if not the entire Navy.
He and Lt. Timothy Hawkins, a public-affairs officer for Groton-based Submarine Group 2, said the only other submarine captains they knew of who came from their boats’ namesakes were in charge of ballistic-missile or guided-missile subs, which are named after states.
Admiral Breckenridge said he had been unaware of Commander Majewski’s hometown connection before he began reviewing Friday’s guest list and noted its large Toledo contingent.
“I just think it’s great that our detailers [assignment-makers] have a sense of humor,” he quipped.
Commander Majewski said he was initially assigned to the USS Oklahoma City for his first command, but when a logistics issue arose with that plan, he requested the Toledo as his first choice.
Being granted that wish brings with it a bit of extra pressure that, beyond being a first command, he’s representing his hometown, the captain said in a separate interview Thursday.
“I’m extremely nervous,” Commander Majewski said. “You’ve been trained to do this, but there’s always the unknown, the ‘what is it I’m not thinking about now that could potentially be a hole that nobody else is thinking about?’ ”
Among his invited guests at Friday’s ceremony were Irma Petersen, a retired home-economics teacher under whom Commander Majewski took a living-skills class as a junior at Start, and her husband, Pete Petersen, who was a German submariner during World War II.
“I’m overwhelmed. I’m so proud of him and so proud to be a part of his life,” said Mrs. Petersen, whom the commander credited with being an unofficial counselor for him in high school as well as a teacher.
“He worked hard to get where he’s at,” said Commander Majewski’s father, Jim Majewski, who still lives in Toledo. “He had a lot of dedication and a lot of support. ... But once he set his mind he was going to do something, he gets it done.”
Mother Connie Paxton, who owns Connie’s Celebrations in northwest Toledo, said she had to sign her son’s enlistment papers because he was still 17 when he graduated high school. She said going underwater for six months at a time — a typical deployment — is something she couldn’t do, and she’s “very proud of everything he does.”
“The safest place he could be in the military is a submarine,” she said.
Equally impressed were Marie Murnen, who lived two doors down from the Majewski family and baby-sat and tutored the boy who would become the Toledo’s commander, and next-door neighbor Tom Youngs, a retired Toledo police sergeant.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this guy — it’s just unbelievable,” Mr. Youngs said after the ceremony.
Commander Majewski has served aboard three other submarines in the Los Angeles class, the same submarine class as the Toledo, and was most recently assigned as naval special projects officer under the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s director of intelligence in Washington.
He takes over the Toledo at the end of the submarine’s 18-month lay-up at General Dynamics’ Electric Boat shipyard a few miles from the Groton base, during which the boat received extensive maintenance and systems upgrades.
“I’m taking a boat that’s leaving the shipyard and will be fully operational,” the captain said.
The next few months, he said, will be devoted to “really getting the crew back in the groove of doing things submarines do well.”
While the Toledo’s crew was well-prepared by Commander Geiger and performed “exceptionally well” during recent post-overhaul sea trials, half of the men now on board had never been to sea before.
Commander Majewski said he expects to cultivate the relationship between his vessel and its namesake city — a plan he said was reinforced by his crew when he spoke with them before taking command.
“Ninety-five percent of the crew asked me, ‘Where do I sign up for the next trip back to Toledo?’ ” he said.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.
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