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Los Alamos forges a connection to the sea

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By Kirsten Laskey

New Mexico might not have a single drop of seawater within its borders but the state has forged a bond with the ocean. There is something diving underneath the waves that bears New Mexico’s name.   

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The connection is even closer to home than you might think. That immense object powering through the ocean, the USS New Mexico submarine, bears a crest that Emilee Sena, a graduate of St. Pius High School and a current student of Santa Clara University in California, designed. Emilee also works at Los Alamos National Laboratory during the summer months and she is the goddaughter of Los Alamos resident Dan Sena.

Futhermore, Dan, along with his wife, Margie and brother, Pat, attended the commissioning of the submarine March 27 in Norfolk, Va.

Dan explained, Emilee won a crest design contest that the PCU New Mexico, the New Mexico Council of Navy League and the USS New Mexico Committee hosted.  The agencies received 180 entries from 156 contestants across the state.

As a result of Emilee’s winning, Dan and his family received a VIP ticket to the commissioning ceremony.

Dan described the event as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The commissioning had all the bells and whistles, he said, from the 21 gun salute and bells ringing to raising the flag and “making the ship come alive,’ which was when the sailors raced on board the submarine.

“All the pomp and circumstance was unbelievable,” Dan said.

The Senas were able to tour an aircraft carrier during the ceremony but were unable to tour the submarine. Dan said the line was extremely long to get into the submarine and they had a limited amount of time.    

However, they were invited to take a tour of USS New Mexico at a later date.

Although he didn’t get a detailed look at the submarine, what Dan said he was able to see was incredible. “It is very (awesome) because it is so huge. Just to know that it has nuclear warheads on it … the torpedoes on it. It has a nuclear reactor right on board and it is very impressive,” Dan said.  

Besides the submarine, Dan said they met admirals, submarine contractors as well as Cmdr. Mark Prokopius.

Dan said he enjoyed talking to Prokopius who told about adventures on submarines and his experiences.

He also had a chance to talk to two sailors who fought on the original USS New Mexico, a battleship, in WW II.

“We talked about how they would be away during WWII a year at a time,” Dan said. “They would be on the battleship, firing shells and they talked about how loud it was. It was just chaos. A year of just chaos.”

In addition to their stories, Dan said the veterans, who are both 94-years-old, were quite the characters.

The submarine was the star of the show but New Mexico and even Los Alamos received attention.

Dan said in many speeches, New Mexico and Los Alamos were mentioned. Speakers were “always saying how important New Mexico was … and all technological advances on the submarine were there because of Los Alamos. (Speakers) frequently referenced Los Alamos in their speeches.” Being from Los Alamos, the attention made Dan puff out his chest in pride. He said he and his family bragged to everyone that they were from Los Alamos.