USS Santa Fe officer visits pueblo

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Culture > Torres’ open home for traditional feast day celebration

By Arin McKenna

USS Santa Fe Commander Tim Poe and Senior Chief Juan Gonzalez came to Santa Fe to experience the culture and history of their submarine’s namesake city.


They left with an unforgettable memory: a taste of a traditional feast day celebration at the San Ildefonso Pueblo home of Elmer and Deborah Torres, replete with a feast day dinner and dances by the Red Turtle Dancers from the Pueblo of Pojoaque.

“This was more than I expected,” Gonzales said. “The dancers are beautiful, their outfits. It’s probably the biggest honor I’ve ever had, for the family to put the feast on and for the dancers to come out for us.”

The celebration was Deborah’s idea. She learned of the visit when Rick Carver, Chairman of the USS Santa Fe SSN-763 Committee, visited the Torres’ Than Povi Gallery in Cuyamungue looking for gifts to send home with the officers. She suggested they should have a chance to experience Puebloan life and offered to host the event.

“It was an honor to have them. My dad, as well as his brothers, was in the Navy, so it’s a good opportunity,” Elmer said. “It’s once in a lifetime you get to have a high ranking naval officer come into your home to visit with you and other dignitaries like Mayor Coss, who’s been a friend of mine for a number of years.”

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Kurt Steinhaus of the Community Programs Office and his wife Jo Beth were among the 50 or so guests at the event. Elmer spent nearly 40 years working for the lab as tribal liaison, a position he suggested would enhance LANL’s relationships with local Pueblos. He also served as governor of San Ildefonso during the 1990s.

The original plan was to have the dances outside, but high winds moved them into the Torres’ small living room.

“I think it turned out good the way they did it,” Elmer said. “The dancers from Pojoaque coming to our home to do a dance meant a lot more, because they bring the blessings from their pueblo into our home–that’s the way it’s interpreted. When a dancer goes through your home, it’s always a blessing for the home.”

The Torres’ also made calls to veterans groups at other pueblos to invite Navy veterans to come by and visit with the officers. Michael Lucero, a member of the Isleta Veterans Association, came to meet them. Poe presented him with a photograph of the submarine as a memento.

This was the first time either officer had visited Santa Fe. Poe grew up in Maryland and Gonzalez hales from Texas.

Both were thrilled with the city as well as their reception.

“It’s great to associate the ship with the city. And there are so many veterans in Northern New Mexico. I haven’t felt more welcome any place I’ve gone as I do here,” Poe said. “Yesterday the two of us walked around the Plaza in uniform, and everyone stopped us and greeted us. They thanked us for our service and had great things to say about the city.”

“It’s different when you leave a Navy town and come to a town away from the ocean. People show their appreciation a lot differently,” Gonzalez said. “A couple people stopped their vehicles to say hello and give their thanks. So that’s a pretty good feeling.

“Hopefully we’ll bring some crew members back so they can experience that as well and relate to the city, so they can get a feel for this, and the culture and the atmosphere from here and take that back on board.”

The two spent one day visiting with University of New Mexico ROTC students.

“There’s actually a lot of interest at the University of New Mexico with the Navy ROTC, and submarines and nuclear power,” Poe said.

The average age of the 130-person crew is 21. Poe jokes that the average age would be much lower without “old guys like me” to leverage it up.

“Some of those junior guys are the ones actually driving the submarine,” Poe said. “And it’s always amazing the first time they get to do that, and they’re driving a submarine as long as a football field.”

Carver also found the gift he was looking for at Than Povi Gallery. He spotted some mugs with American Indian designs dedicated to the various branches of the military. Elmer Torres arranged for the artist to adapt the Navy design to include the insignia of the USS Santa Fe. The committee had additional mugs made to sell as fundraisers.

The USS Santa Fe committee is currently fundraising to bring several crew members for a visit around Memorial Day.

If the committee is able to fund the trip, they are planning on visits to Los Alamos as well as Santa Fe. Carver had tried unsuccessfully to arrange a visit to the Los Alamos ROTC this trip.

Carver is also recruiting members to serve on the USS Santa Fe Committee; for more information go to usssantafe763.net.