Matt Luff is anticipating “going to sea for the first time as captain,” he reported by email.
A USS Tennessee change of command ceremony took place in the chapel onboard Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, Aug. 29, said a U.S. Navy news release. “Cmdr. Jon Schaffner was relieved by Cmdr. Matthew Luff as the commanding officer” of the Tennessee Gold Crew.
“The improvements you have made to how we do business on Tennessee ensure your legacy on this ship and across the waterfront,” Luff told Schaffner during the program. “Thank you for turning over the best crew of warfighters in the submarine force.”
During his speech, Luff recognized his aunt and uncle, whose son, Sgt. Dave Luff, was killed in action in November 2010 while serving in support of Operation New Dawn, according to the news release. “The loss of my cousin Dave is a constant reminder to me that even in the strongest, best equipped and well-trained military in the world, combat is an inherently messy and dangerous job,” said Luff to the crew. “We will continue to train hard and keep our ship in the best possible material condition in order to be as ready as we can be for combat.”
Luff was amazed so many friends and family – about 50 – traveled from out of town to attend the event. “As I walked into the ceremony, the weight of the responsibility that I was about to take on hit me. It was very sobering, but also exciting because this is the moment I have been working toward for the last 18 years of my career.”
To celebrate the achievement, “we had a big party at our house the night after the ceremony.”
His mom recalled the event “was really awesome. Just to think he’s in charge of this whole sub!”
The son of Larry and Barb Luff, Batesville, commands one of the Navy’s 14 Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines, which are designed specifically for stealth and the precise delivery of nuclear warheads, according to a fact file at https://www.navy.mil. He explains, “We deter war by providing the president with a survivable platform capable of firing back in the event the United States is attacked.”
Luff reports, “The ship’s propulsion plant is nuclear powered. Instead of burning fossil fuel like most ships, the submarine has a nuclear reactor, which provides power for propulsion and electrical loads. Unlike conventional power sources, nuclear propulsion does not require air, which allows the ship to remain underwater and undetected for long periods of time. Nuclear power provides the power and endurance that make the ship’s strategic deterrent mission possible.”
Tennessee is one of five ballistic-missile submarines stationed at the Georgia base and is capable of carrying up to 20 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with multiple warheads, the news release noted.
The ship is 560 feet long and the hull is 42 feet in diameter, enough room for about 160 crewmembers, 17 officers and 143 enlisted personnel. It weighs over 18,000 tons when submerged.
Although the submarine force has been open to females since 2010, not all submarines were modified to have mixed gender crews. No women currently serve onboard the USS Tennessee.
The commander’s work schedule varies depending on whether the sub is at sea or in port. “At sea, I am responsible for a moving warship 24 hours a day seven days a week. Although other people will actually be driving and operating the ship, I provide constant supervision and will need to be available to respond at a moment’s notice. Of course I am able to sleep, eat and exercise, but the spaces where I will spend the majority of my time are equipped to provide me with constant situational awareness of the ship’s operations.
“In port, I will try to keep normal working hours to the maximum extent possible, but will likely have some longer days as we get closer to taking the ship to sea or when special evolutions are in progress.”
“The key challenges are managing the maintenance of the ship while simultaneously keeping the crew at a high state of operational readiness. It is critical to maintain the ship in the best possible material condition so that the ship can safely and credibly accomplish its mission. The crew needs to be able to not only maintain the ship’s material condition, but also stay proficient at the complex skillsets required to safely take the ship to sea. We must meet uncompromising standards for operating the propulsion plant, navigating underwater and employing the weapons system.”
The sailors serve terms of about three to five years, which means there is constant turnover of personnel. The 40-year-old says, “We are always training and qualifying new sailors on how to do their jobs. Developing people is challenging, but it is also the most rewarding part of the job.”
He realizes “we need to make sure the sailors can spend some time at home with their families. Our workload is relatively fixed, so we need to always be looking for ways to work efficiently so that we can accomplish our mission without burning out our people and their families. We want to keep the best sailors in the Navy and if we don’t provide an acceptable work-life balance, they will take their skills and talents to the private sector.”
His interactions with crewmembers makes the job worthwhile. “The submarine force is an all-volunteer selective service. The caliber of people you get to work with is unparalleled. Their abilities and dedication are quite amazing.”
He feels a sense of accomplishment “when you come home after successfully completing your mission.”
Luff reflects, “Command gives me the opportunity to make 160 sailors’ and their families’ lives better while serving their country. The Navy offers great pay and benefits and an opportunity for high performers to rapidly move up the ranks. It is a privilege to be a part of running an organization that is both mission and people focused.”
Luff started preparing to become a military leader in college. “I attended Marquette University (where he met wife Megan) on an NROTC scholarship.” The program involved taking a naval science class every semester, weekly drills, physical training and gaining leadership experience running a battalion of midshipmen. In preparation for his future, the student spent a month every summer at sea on various Navy ships.
He graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering.
“After I graduated, I had about 15 months of initial training in nuclear power, navigation and tactics before reporting to my first ship.” Onboard the USS Nevada, “I had to qualify in submarines before I could earn my Gold Dolphins. (Dolphins are the submarine insignia. Officers wear gold and enlisted personnel wear silver. Earning dolphins is similar to a pilot getting their wings.)
Following that qualification, he has been through several formal schools, including the Submarine Officer Advanced Course and Submarine Command Course, to prepare Luff for the commander role.
What made the student decide to join the Navy? He says, “I have always been patriotic and inclined to serve, but I will admit that at first it was mostly about the opportunities to go to college for free and have a guaranteed good job when I finished. I have stayed in the Navy because of the amazing people I have gotten to work with and because I believe in the importance of the missions we accomplish.”
An uncle in the Navy who talked to Luff about the opportunities and experiences he had was inspiring as well. However, “My uncle was a pilot and couldn’t figure out why I wanted to go under the water instead of flying above it!”
There are several advantages to joining a military branch. He observes, “The military provides great opportunities and training while seeing the world. My family and I have had a chance to live in Connecticut, Seattle, Virginia and even southern Italy! I have gotten to visit ports all over the world. Although I am partial to the Navy, every branch of the military provides a chance to serve your country while acquiring valuable skills and amazing experiences.”
The Cincinnati native, who moved to Batesville at 8, attended third through eighth grades at St. Louis School, then commuted to St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati, but stayed involved with the Batesville community in Boy Scout Troop 634, the Batesville Swim Team and working at the YMCA as a lifeguard and swimming instructor.
Favorite pastimes include – no surprise here – travel and “spending time outdoors with my kids,” Andrew, 13, and Margaret, 11.
Luff, who holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, likes Georgia because the location provides “the chance to experience something new. It is nice living close to some great beaches. I am trying to get back into golf – it will be nice to be able to play year-round. The people here are all very friendly and welcoming.”