By Joel Hall
A project to celebrate the homecoming of the USS Georgia in all 159 counties in the state before March 28, made it's 49th stop -- in Clayton County -- on Tuesday.
The USS Georgia Return to Service Committee (RTS) made a visit to Clayton County as part of the Georgia Flag Project to promote the porting of the guided-missile submarine at the Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay, Ga.
In March, the once-commissioned, nuclear capable submarine, which is now a guided missile submarine, will port off the coast of Georgia, becoming the first submarine in the U. S. Navy to be stationed in the waters of its namesake.
Since mid-December, RTS was been zig-zagging through the state, carrying the Georgia state flag at every appearance with county officials.
The ultimate purpose of the trip is to educate citizens about the history of the submarine, and to show support for the crew of 13 officers and 140 enlisted sailors who will soon be making Kings Bay area the submarine's home.
"It's kind of like a torch run at the Olympics," said Chick Krautler, director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, who led the RTS presentation at the Board of Commissioners building. "It's a symbolic gesture to show the whole crew of the USS Georgia that we are supportive of them."
Eugene McCarthy, a retired Senior Chief Petty Officer and a Jonesboro resident, was present at the submarine's commissioning in Feb. 1984 in New London, Conn.
"It's important to the state of Georgia that they are getting their namesake ship home-ported within the confines of the state," said McCarthy. He said the submarine's crew will boost the economy of the Kings Bay area and the tax dollars paid to the city of Kings Bay will benefit the school system there.
In order to keep up with the North Atlanta Treaty Organization's guidelines for nuclear proliferation, the USS Georgia's nuclear missile payload was converted into a guided missile system at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia in 2006. The shorter range missiles, however, will give the Georgia maritime defense a strategic advantage in the case of an attack on Georgia's coastline, McCarthy said.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said it is an honor to be included in the Georgia Flag Project and "if at all possible," he wanted to bring the submarine to Clayton County.
"It's an honor for me to act on behalf of the people of Clayton County to participate in this historic homecoming," said Bell.